Internet from a Sachet

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    Internet from a Sachet 

    Syllabus: GS2/ Government Policies & Interventions

    In Context

    • Digital connectivity is a sine qua non for everything digital in today’s world. 

    India’s digital connectivity landscape

    • The connectivity landscape has been transformed in the last seven years in India due to multiple factors like 
      • The boom in mobile telephony (a billion-plus mobile connections)
      • 4G coverage, 
      • A significant reduction in tariffs (from Rs 300 per GB to a mere Rs 7 per GB).
      • Increased smartphone penetration.
      • Enabling policies like Net Neutrality and the country’s focus on building Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) — particularly digital ID and UPI — have further contributed to the increase in digital transactions across domains.

    About the Digital India programme 

    • Vision: Government launched the Digital India programme with the vision of transforming India into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge-based economy, by ensuring 
      • digital access, 
      • digital inclusion, 
      • digital empowerment and 
      • bridging the digital divide. 
    • The programme is centred on three key vision areas: 
      • Digital infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen, 
      • Governance and services on demand, and 
      • Digital empowerment of citizens. 
    • Goal: The overall goal is to ensure that 
      • Digital technologies improve the life of every citizen, 
      • Expand India’s digital economy, and 
      • Create investment and employment opportunities and 
      • Create digital technological capabilities in India.
    • Outcomes of the programme:
      • Digital India has considerably reduced the distance between Government and citizens. 
      • It has also helped in delivery of substantial services directly to the beneficiary in a transparent and corruption free manner. 
      • In the process, India has emerged as one of the pre-eminent nations of the world to use technology to transform the lives of its citizens.

    Issue of Data Demand & Gaps

    • This growth has been accompanied by a huge surge in data demand. Video is now the major data-guzzling medium. 
    • India’s per capita data consumption is a whopping 19.5 GB per month.
    • The total data volume transported by mobile networks of India is more than the mobile networks of the US and China combined.
      • This means that today, even a child requires five to six gigabytes of data for online classes and other educational requirements. 
    • Thus, the gap between demand and affordable supply remains wide, especially for poor households and rural India.

    Possible way to bridge the Data supply gaps – PM-WANI

    • About Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI):
      • The creation of inter-operable public wi-fi hotspots was one such idea proposed by the Telecom Regulator of India (TRAI) in 2017. 
      • Similar in concept to the PCOs of the past, it proposed to create millions of interoperable wi-fi hotspots, Public Data Offices (PDOs), for the last mile distribution of broadband to the common people in sachet-sized packages of Rs 5 to 10. 
        • This system can provide community content without using the bandwidth. 
      • The idea was successfully piloted as the Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, or WANI.
    • Significance of PM-WANI:
      • This framework offers a compelling business opportunity for aggregators as it allows unbundling of internet distribution at the last mile, eliminating the need for additional licensing fees. 
      • It provides a robust foundation for delivering affordable internet access to a significant portion of society
      • PM-WANI can also nurture the growth of local nano entrepreneurs throughout the country. 
        • These last-mile providers (PDOs) can be found in small shops, local establishments, and even households. 
        • They establish wi-fi hotspots and offer internet access to other users, enabling them to augment their monthly earnings while promoting internet usage through affordable sachet plans.
    • Sachet internet:
      • In the last year alone, more than 1.5 lakh wi-fi hotspots have been installed by PDOAs and more than a million people are getting unlimited Internet daily by paying just Rs 5 to 10. 
      • Students are buying this sachet internet instead of a packet of chips or soft drinks from their pocket money.

    Challenges 

    • Availability of connectivity:
      • One of the arguments against PM-WANI is that data is now so cheap and everyone has 4G connectivity — there is no business case for wi-fi hotspots. This, as we have seen, is an oversimplification.
    • Need of legal mandate:
      • Except for Aadhaar (prompted by litigation), none of the pre existing platforms [like Aarogya Setu, CoWIN or even Government E-Marketplace (GEM)] has a legal definition of their functions, roles and responsibilities from an Act of Parliament. 
    • Data collection & breach:
      • One of the common aspects of all such platforms is them being data guzzlers where personal information is gathered from Indians that goes beyond the technical requirements. 
      • This only results in multiple individual and social harms, including data breaches.

    Way ahead

    • PM-WANI presents a golden opportunity to accelerate high-speed unlimited internet penetration, bridging the digital divide and empowering communities.
    • PM-WANI needs to be promoted by all stakeholders — governments, civil society, and startups. 
    • This Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is uniquely Indian in its approach to interoperability, openness, and scalability. It will hopefully accelerate like UPI or other DPIs.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Examine the need for the application of Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, or WANI to deliver affordable internet access in India. What are the challenges?