The government has reaffirmed its commitment to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural communication infrastructure. “We are making good progress towards making Digital India,” said finance minister Arun Jaitley, while presenting the Union Budget 2015-16 in Parliament on Saturday.
The Digital India programme is aimed to make India a knowledge and innovation-based society with broadband connectivity being taken to all villages.
The networking of 2.5 lakh villages is being further sped up by allowing willing states to undertake its execution — on reimbursement of cost as determined by the department of telecommunications. “Andhra Pradesh is the first state to have opted for this manner of implementation,” said Jaitely.
The Government to Citizen services over the digital platform will be operational across 2,50,000 gram panchayats in the country by March 2016 with the completion of the National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) project of 7.5 lakh kms.
The NOFN is intended to do what National Highways did to road transport — to connect remote villages, ease access to health, education and business.
A senior official in the communications ministry said that the Prime Minister’s Office had asked the ministry to revise the NOFN’s current target to connect 50,000 gram panchayats by March 2015, one lakh gram panchayts by March 2016 and another one lakh by December 2016.
The NOFN project missed the March 2014 deadline by a year — with only 60 gram panchayats (village councils) connected by optical fibre network in May last year. Upon assuming office, communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had, in his opening remarks, said, “If the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was known for national highways, the Modi government will be known for broadband highways.”
The NOFN will enable citizens to access a minimum of 100 gigabits per second download and upload speed on each connection.