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Broadband Boost: NOFN aims to bridge the urban-rural connectivity gap

June 01, 2012

The internet and broadband segment is yet to gain momentum despite the Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT) efforts to push the uptake of these services. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the country’s broadband user base stood at 13.79 million in March 2012, as compared to 919.17 million wireless users.

The government is pulling out all the stops to drive the uptake of these services. For example, DoT is focusing on increasing internet penetration in rural areas by providing improved connectivity to public institutions like village panchayats, primary health centres and schools.

Also, the recently approved National Telecom Policy (NTP), 2012 has set several targets to expand broadband usage. These include increasing the rural teledensity from the current 35 per cent to 60 per cent by 2017 and 100 per cent by 2020; encouraging digitisation of the local cable network; recognising broadband as a basic necessity; working towards the target of “broadband for all”; and developing synergies between existing, ongoing and future government initiatives like e-governance, e-panchayat, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the National Knowledge Network and Aadhar.

The NTP also aims to provide high speed and high quality broadband access to all village panchayats through optic fibre by 2014.

Today, there is an urgent need to bridge the urban-rural divide and ensure inclusive growth via broadband networks. Establishing a national broadband network is key to achieving these targets.

Issues and challenges

There are several connectivity gaps in the existing optic fibre cable (OFC) infrastructure between the block and village panchayat levels. Also, there is lack of relevant content and applications and affordable devices in rural areas.

It has been estimated that on an average, 2 km of additional OFC connectivity per village panchayat is required. Also, 500,000 km of cables need to be laid, the necessary electronic equipment has to be mounted on the cable connecting the blocks to the village panchayats, and the existing OFC set-up between the blocks and village panchayats should be leveraged by operators. In all, investments worth about $4 billion will be needed to meet these requirements.

NOFN project

To address these issues, the Department of Information Technology (DIT), in collaboration with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), has launched the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project to connect 250,000 village panchayats through an OFC network. The government approved the project in October 2011 and plans to complete it by October 2013.

The NOFN is aimed at bridging the connectivity gap between village panchayats and blocks. It is being implemented by Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL).

The project has been envisaged as a joint effort by the state governments and the central government, and will be financed through the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund. A tripartite MoU has been signed by the governments and BBNL.

The states are expected to contribute by not levying any right-of-way charges (including reinstatement charges).

BBNL will be the bandwidth provider for the project and would ensure that all panchayats are connected. The NOFN will be used by operators, internet service providers and cable TV operators in a non-discriminatory manner and will be a business-to-business set-up.

NOFN’s targeted benefits

The project aims to ensure that broadband connectivity of at least 100 Mbps is available at each village panchayat; and supports applications such as e-health, e-education, e-governance, e-commerce and videoconferencing.

Also, the NOFN is expected to enable effective and faster implementation of mission-mode e-governance projects initiated by the DIT as well as several electronic services provided by the private sector to the rural population.

Besides, the connected panchayats will be able to monitor various government schemes including the allotment of unique identification numbers. These applications will use the NOFN to connect rural areas with educational institutions, health services and central government services.

Conclusion

According to a World Bank study, a 10 per cent growth in broadband penetration results in a 1.4 per cent increase in the GDP. The NOFN project is not only expected to increase broadband usage but also benefit rural India through various electronic- and internet-based initiatives of the government.

 
 

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