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Chapter # 18. Digital Connectivity


Given the relevance of digital connectivity to economic growth and the need to eliminate the digital divide by 2022-23, India should aim to achieve:

  • Physical digital connectivity across all states, districts and gram panchayats (GPs).
  • Delivery of government services digitally by 2022-23.
  • Hundred per cent basic digital literacy across the country to be able to leverage the benefits of digitization.

Current Situation 

According to the Internet Trends 2017 report,1 27 per cent of India’s population (355 million users) uses the internet. While this represents exponential growth compared to the 4 per cent penetration in 2009 (see Figure 18.1 below), there is scope for improvement.

The Digital India scheme launched in 2015 brought the topic of digitization to the forefront of public discourse. Areas including construction of broadband highways, public internet access, e-governance and development of basic information technology skills, etc., have achieved considerable progress under this programme2.

In 2011,4 the scheme for the creation of a National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) was initiated to connect all the GPs of the country with high-speed internet. Although the project has lagged behind its original timelines, significant progress has been made in the past two years.

As of February 4, 2018,5 under BharatNet, work had started in 1.24 lakh GPs of which 1.08 lakh GPs were service ready. The targeted timeline to connect the remaining 1,50,000 GPs is March 2019.

Furthermore, the National Information Infrastructure (NII) will ensure the integration of the networks and cloud infrastructure to provide high-speed connectivity to various government departments up to the panchayat level.6

The components of NII include networks such as the State Wide Area Network (SWAN), National Knowledge Network (NKN), BharatNet, Government User Network (GUN) and the MeghRaj Cloud.

The government also launched the Public Internet Access Programme7 to make 2,50,000 common service centres (CSCs) operational at the gram panchayat level to deliver government services online. Under this programme, 1,50,000 post offices will be converted into multi-service centres.

The last mile connectivity, through Wi-Fi or any other suitable broadband technology, is to be provided at all GPs in the country, funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).

Since the last mile connectivity will be provided by a service provider, it will ensure the presence of at least one telecommunications service provider (TSP)/internet service providers (ISP) at each GP to provide data service.

The government has identified 55,619 villages8 with no mobile coverage. Most of these villages are in the North-Eastern states. A comprehensive development plan, to be implemented in phases, has been initiated to cover remote villages in the North-East.


With the increasing role of technology in our daily lives and the growing significance of Industry 4.0, India can only unlock its true potential once digital connectivity, the basic building block for most technological solutions, reaches the last mile. The constraints that need to be addressed to unleash the full benefits of digital connectivity in India fall under five major areas:

  1. Broadband connectivity
  • Internet access is plagued by issues related to quality and reliability, outages, call drops and weak signals.
  • The current definition of broadband of 512 kbps9 speed is inadequate and not in line with the expected rise in demand in the future.
  • Existing networks have been strained by limited spectrum availability and usage, affecting the provision of quality services.
  1. Digital access and literacy  
  • A significant portion of our population does not have access to devices such as laptops, computers, smartphones, etc.
  • Digital literacy in India is estimated to be less than 10 per cent of the population.10
  1. Content in Indian languages  
  • Currently, most digital content is in English. However, a KPMG11 report suggested that “9 out of every 10 new internet users in India over the next 5 years are likely to be Indian language users”.
  1. Availability of e-services
  • A large number of e-services are not available on the digital platform and there is wide variation across states in the availability of citizen e-services. Currently, citizens have to physically visit government offices to access most government-to-citizen (G2C) services, as municipalities and other government bodies have been slow to digitize their processes.
  1. Cyber security
  • The regulatory framework for cyber security is inadequate.
  • Hacking and denial-of-service attacks have led to disruption of services, both in the government and the private sector – banks and governments increasingly face security breaches.

Way Forward

Broadband connectivity

  • A modified strategy for expediting the pace of implementation of the BharatNet project was approved on July 19, 2017. As part of the modified strategy, the remaining 1.50,000 GPs are to be connected in Phase-II through a state-led model (8 states), private sector model (2 states) and CPSU model (10 states) by using an optimal mix of media (OFC, radio and satellite).
  • Further, about 5298 GPs located in remote and hilly locations with poor connectivity are being connected on satellite media, so as to provide broadband connectivity to all GPs. The service delivery mechanism, by providing last mile connectivity through Wi-Fi or any other suitable broadband technology to all GPs, has been made an integral part of the project.
  • The project is targeted to be implemented by March, 2019. In addition, public Wi-Fi hotspots are being set up by BSNL at its 25,000 telephone exchanges in rural areas and Wi-Fi choupals are being set up in 5,000 GPs by CSC-SPV under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
  • The provision of universal broadband coverage at 50 Mbps to every citizen and the enabling of 100 Mbps broadband on demand to all key development institutions, including educational institutions, are under consideration in the new National Digital Communications Policy, 2018.
  • As the sector regulator, TRAI should consider putting in place a credible system to track call drops, weak signals and outages to ensure the quality and reliability of telecom services.
  • The results may be put in the public domain. Government should also put in place telecom ombudsman for complaint redressal.

Quality of service

  • Adequate spectrum availability is critical to ensure service quality. Efficient spectrum allocation in large contiguous blocks should be explored. We should also explore migration to new technologies which would resolve some of the bandwidth challenges.

Access and digital literacy

  • Digital literacy needs special focus at the school/college levels. The National Digital Literacy Mission should focus on introducing digital literacy at the primary school level in all government schools for basic content and in higher classes and colleges for advanced content. The multiplier effects of this mission will be realized when these students in turn educate their family members. Higher digital literacy will also increase the adoption of computer hardware across the country.

Content in Indian languages

  • State governments should pay special attention to creating content, particularly those relating to government e-services, in Indian regional languages.
  • To fulfil the vision of making all government’s online services available in all 22 official languages, there needs to be focused collaboration between the centre, states and researchers to promote Natural Language Processing (NLP) in Indian languages. Machine learning now makes this well within reach. Focus could be laid on the automatic translation of content into regional languages from Hindi or English. Case studies like those of the European Union, which had similar problems in making content available in the languages of member countries, should be explored to identify models that can potentially be adopted.

Availability of e-services

  • Individual ministries and states have to play a pivotal role in ensuring that all their services are available and easily accessible by citizens over digital platforms. Digital platforms, that enable real-time data updates, would increase accountability, and facilitate monitoring, quality checks and timely intervention by the higher administrative authorities. Procurement of such digital platforms could be standardized by the central government based on an analysis of successful case studies in India. This would ensure expedited implementation across the country. As mentioned earlier, ministries/states should also ensure that the services are reliable, safe and available in regional languages as well as in Hindi/English.

Cyber security

  • MeitY will need to evolve a comprehensive cyber security framework for data security, safe digital transactions and complaint redressal. The National e-governance Division of MeitY should periodically audit compliance of e-services offered by state governments. It should bring out a performance report of e-services with a view to improve service delivery.

Chapter # 41. Data Led Governance and Policy Making

Objectives Evidence based policy making should be made integral to the overall governance structure in New India, 2022-23. To achieve this, timely gen

Chapter # 40. Optimizing the Use of Land Resources

Optimizing the Use of Land Resources-Ensuring that land markets function smoothly, through efficient allocation of land across uses, provision of secu

Chapter # 39. Modernizing City Governance For Urban Transformation

Objective  City Governance For Urban Transformation To transform our cities into economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable habitats that p

Chapter # 38. Civil Services Reforms

Objective  civil-services-reforms To put in place a reformed system of recruitment, training and performance evaluation of the civil service to ensur

Chapter # 37. Legal, Judicial and Police Reforms

Objective To ensure the safety and security of citizens and ensure access to effective legal systems and speedy delivery of justice. Current Situation

Chapter # 36. The North-East Region

Objectives The North-East Region (NER) should: Have adequate road, rail and air connectivity, waterways, internet connectivity and financial inclusion

Chapter # 35. Balanced Regional Development: Transforming Aspirational Districts

Objective  Balanced Regional Development: Transforming Aspirational Districts Achieve balanced development in India by uplifting 115 districts, curre

Chapter # 34. Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Other Tribal Groups and Minorities

SCs, STs, OBCs, De-Notified Tribes (DNTs), Nomadic Tribes (NTs) and Semi-Nomadic Tribes (SNTs) Objective  To accelerate the socio-economic developm

Chapter # 33. Senior Citizens, Persons with Disability and Transgender Persons

SENIOR CITIZENS  Objective To ensure a life of dignity, social security and safety for senior citizens, enabling them to actively participate in econ

Chapter # 32. Gender

Objective  To create an enabling environment, sans institutional and structural barriers. To enhance the female labour force participation rate to at

Chapter # 31. Nutrition

Objectives  Under POSHAN Abhiyaan, achieve the following outcomes by 2022-23, compared to the baseline of 2015-16 (National Family Health Survey-4):

Chapter # 30. Universal Health Coverage

Objectives  On the strong platform of Pradhan Mantri – Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY): Attain a coverage of at least 75 per cent of the population

Chapter # 29. Human Resources for Health

Objectives  Achieve a doctor-population ratio of at least 1:1400 (WHO norm 1:1000) and nurse-population ratio of at least 1:500 (WHO norm 1:400) by 2

Chapter # 28. Comprehensive Primary Health Care

Objectives  Under Ayushman Bharat, scale-up a new vision for comprehensive primary health care across the country, built on the platform of health an

Chapter # 27. Public Health Management and Action

Objectives  To revamp radically the public and preventive health system in the nation through the following strategic interventions: Mobilize public

Chapter # 26. Skill Development

Obejctives  For harnessing the demographic advantage that it enjoys, India needs to build the capacity and infrastructure for skilling/reskilling/up-

Chapter # 25. Teacher Education and Training

Objectives There cannot be a quality education system without quality teachers. Therefore, a thorough revamp of the entire ecosystem of teacher educat

Chapter # 24. Higher Education

Objectives  Increase the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education from 25 per cent in 2016-17 to 35 per cent by 2022-23. Make higher education

23. School Education

Objectives Universal access and retention: o Hundred per cent enrolment and retention at elementary education and secondary education levels; achieve

Chapter # 22. Sustainable Environment

Objective  The objective is to maintain a clean, green and healthy environment with peoples’ participation to support higher and inclusive economic

Chapter # 21. Water Resources

Objectives By 2022-23, India’s water resources management strategy should facilitate water security to ensure adequate availability of water for l

Chapter # 20. Swash Bharat Mission

Objectives The key objectives of the Swachh Bharat Mission include: 1. Making India Open Defecation Free (ODF) by October 2, 2019. 2. Carrying out ext

Chapter # 19.Smart Cities for Urban Transformation

Objectives  Leverage the ‘Smart Cities’ concept in select urban clusters to: Drive job creation and economic growth. Significantly improve effici

Chapter # 18. Digital Connectivity

Objectives Given the relevance of digital connectivity to economic growth and the need to eliminate the digital divide by 2022-23, India should aim to

Chapter # 17. Logistics

Objectives Achieve multi-modal movement of cargo on par with global logistics standards. Reduce the logistics cost to less than 10 per cent of GDP fro

Chapter # 16.Ports, Shipping and Inland Waterways

Objectives  Double the share of freight transported by coastal shipping and inland waterways from 6 per cent in 2016-171 to 12 per cent by 2025. Incr

Chapter # 15. Civil Aviation

Objectives Enhance the affordability of flying to enable an increase in domestic ticket sales from 103.75 million in 2016-171 to 300 million by 2022.2

Chapter # 14. Railways

Objectives By 2022-23, India should have a rail network that is not only efficient, reliable and safe, but is also cost-effective and accessible, both

Chapter # 13. Surface Transport

Objectives Increasing the coverage and quality of roads and highways is critical to enhancing connectivity and internal and external trade. By 2022-23

Chapter # 12. Energy

Objectives The government’s on-going energy sector policies aim “to provide access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy”. At t

Chapter # 11. Minerals

Objectives Double the area explored from 10 per cent of obvious geological potential (OGP) area to 20 per cent.1 Accelerate the growth of the mining s

Chapter # 10. Travel, Tourism and Hospitality

Objectives  Increase India’s share in global international tourist arrivals from 1.18 per cent to 3 per cent. Increase the number of foreign touris

Chapter # 9. Housing For All

Objectives Provide every family with a pucca house, with a water connection, toilet facilities, and 24×7 electricity supply and access. Build 2.9

Chapter # 8. Financial Inclusion

Objectives Banking for the unbanked  o Bank accounts: Ensuring universal access to bank accounts, which are a gateway to all financial services.  o

Chapter # 7.Doubling Farmers’ Income (III): Value Chain & Rural Infrastructure

Objectives • Transform the rural economy through the creation of modern rural infrastructure and an integrated value chain system. • Leverage the

Chapter # 6.Doubling Farmers’ Income (II): Policy & Governance

Objectives Create a policy environment that enables income security for farmers, whilst maintaining India’s food security. Encourage the participati

Chapter # 5.Doubling Farmers’ Income (I): Modernizing Agriculture

Objectives • Modernize agricultural technology, increase productivity, efficiency and crop diversification. • Generate income and employment throu

Chapter # 4.Industry

Objectives Double the current growth rate of the manufac-turing sector by 2022. Promote in a planned manner the adoption of the latest technology adva

Chapter # 3. Technology and Innovation

Objectives India should be among the top 50 countries in the Global Innovation Index by 2022-23.1 Five of our scientific research institutions should

Chapter # 2.Employment and Labour Reforms

Objectives Complete codification of central labour laws into four codes by 2019. Increase female labour force participation to at least 30 per cent by

Chapter # 1 Growth (India @ 75)

Objectives Steadily accelerate the gross domestic product(GDP) growth rate to achieve a target of about 8 per cent during 2018-23 This will raise the


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