Praveen Cherian, Chief Executive Officer, Global Services Business, STL

As an advocate for progress in India, I firmly believe that providing widespread internet connectivity to even the most remote parts of the country is crucial to achieving greater heights of development. The potential benefits of internet access in rural areas are numerous and far-reaching. From promoting entrepreneurship to transforming education and healthcare, bridging the digital divide can revolutionise the socio-economic situation and open new avenues for progress. It is imperative that we prioritise and invest in expanding internet connectivity to all corners of the country to unlock the full potential of rural India.

I came across an inspiring story from Paalaguttapalle, Andhra Pradesh that showcases the power of internet connectivity for rural entrepreneurship. Aparna Krishnan, a local woman, formed a group of women in the village to stitch eco-friendly bags and leveraged social media to reach customers across India and overseas. Today, her business has sold around 50,000 bags and continues to grow. This success story proves the transformative power of internet connectivity in even the remotest parts of the country.

A decade ago, the idea of such a scenario was nothing short of a dream. Internet connectivity in rural India was, to be frank, not particularly encouraging. While there have been significant improvements in rural internet connectivity in recent years, there is still much ground to cover. Currently, only 37 per cent of rural areas in India have internet coverage, lagging urban areas and other developing countries. Deploying fibre connectivity in rural areas can spur economic growth and development, creating more opportunities for businesses and employment. It is time to extend the connectivity revolution to rural India for a more prosperous and equitable future.

What can uninterrupted internet connectivity in villages do for India?

Undoubtedly, improving rural internet connectivity in India will have significant positive effects on the country’s socio-economic development. According to the Economic Survey 2022-23, there has been a remarkable 200 per cent increase in internet penetration in rural areas of India from 2015 to 2021. The growth of the internet in rural India was even more significant during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the government calling it a “major shock absorber” when both businesses and consumer demand were impacted. Digital payments have witnessed 13 per cent growth over 2021 to reach an estimated 338 million users, of which 36 per cent are from rural India.

However, despite 70 per cent of India’s population residing in rural areas, the number of internet connections in urban areas still exceeds that of rural areas. This indicates the potential for even greater economic growth if rural internet connectivity is further improved. Studies suggest that every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration can increase GDP growth by 1.38 per cent, further highlighting the importance of rural internet connectivity for India’s future growth. By 2030, more than 1bn Indians are expected to have access to high-speed internet, which will not only increase literacy rates but also open up new opportunities for rural populations in their respective areas.

According to estimates, nearly 56 per cent of all new internet users by 2025 will be from rural India, as the total population of Indians with access to the internet is expected to hit 900 million in the next two years. Digital connectivity without interruptions has the potential to revolutionise the lives of rural communities, providing easy access to healthcare, education, social welfare, and more. This will eliminate the need for people to travel long distances in search of better opportunities and bridge the gap between urban and rural populations. With the growing number of digital users in rural areas, there is a tremendous opportunity for the country’s economic growth, and it is crucial to invest in and improve rural internet connectivity.

Let’s do rural connectivity right

The government has an essential role to play in driving this transformation. Initiatives such as the BharatNet project, which aims to provide high-speed internet connectivity to rural areas, are a step in the right direction. However, we need more public-private partnerships to drive digital transformation in rural areas as this will help India achieve its $5 trillion goal.

While the connectivity, quality of service, and affordability have improved, but there still is a need to press on the pedal for greater rural connectivity which can be done by:

  • Connecting the unconnected by bringing fibre, wireless and satellite to villages: To achieve ubiquitous connectivity in rural India, a converged digital network utilising fibre, wireless, and satellite technology is necessary. Fibre will provide high capacity and bandwidth, while wireless and satellite technologies will offer mobility and coverage in areas where it is challenging and expensive to deploy traditional coverage.
  • Rapid and efficient implementation of technology-driven solutions: Initiatives such as BharatNet and National Broadband Mission are progressing rapidly, resulting in a speedy deployment of fibre networks. Deploying fibre networks through preconfigured elements using unified deployment platforms can be highly beneficial. This approach may avoid misinterpretation and enable more efficient deployment of fibres in rural areas, resulting in a faster and more cost-effective implementation.
  • Special policy frameworks: It is imperative to create a specific policy framework that addresses critical elements such as penetration of use cases, diverse investment models, and uniform standards for permissions, among other factors.

I truly believe that empowering rural communities through digital connectivity is crucial to achieving this goal. The transformative power of the internet in villages cannot be overstated, as it has the potential to revolutionise various industries and uplift the lives of rural communities. It is imperative for the industry to recognise its responsibility and take an active role in driving this transformation for the greater good of the nation.