The implementation of the GramNet programme is a breakthrough initiative to promote universal digital services in rural India. This article argues the multiple socio-economic benefits of the GramNet programme and highlights the measures the Government of India needs to undertake, to successively execute this programme in rural India.
To speed up the telecom services in rural India, recently, the Ministry of Communication has introduced GramNet telecom services, with 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps speed. Reiterating the promises that were made in 2018, the ministry has introduced these services at the 36th foundation day celebration of Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).
While launching C-DoT’s latest innovation, C-Sat-Fi technology, the minister promised that the implementation of this service will empower the people of rural and remote areas. It will make telephone and Wi-Fi facilities available on any mobile phone. Furthermore, the minister said that, as India celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, this will be a real tribute to Bapu, who had dreamt of a self-reliant Indian village.
However, the effective implementation of this GramNet telecom service has many more socio-economic benefits.
Firstly, the successful execution of this service will reduce the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) gap between the Indian states and rural-urban areas as well. According to the recent telecom report in June 2019, the telecom market in India has seen rapid growth in the last decade. The aggregate teledensity, (i.e. the number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area), has snowballed from 18.23 per cent in 2007 to 90.11 per cent in 2019. Despite rapid growth in telecommunication, there is an unequal distribution of ICT among the Indian states and rural-urban India too.
As per the report, up to 31st March 2019, the urban teledensity was 159.66 percent whereas the rural teledensity was 57.50 percent. The data shows that there is a high rural-urban disparity in digital technology distribution in India.
The state-wise distribution of ICT shows that states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Kerala, Gujarat and Maharashtra have greater levels of ICT, whereas states like Odisha, Utter Pradesh, Bihar and Assam having lower levels of ICT. Therefore, the successful implementation of this service may reduce the existing digital disparity in India.
Easy and affordable accessibility of Wi-Fi services through GramNet can boost the digital banking facilities in rural areas. Despite the digital revolution in India, large sections of the rural population are excluded from the formal banking system. As per the Global Findex database (2017), in India, 79 percent of the rural population have deposit accounts, 18 percent have saving accounts and only 7 per cent have credit accounts.
Similarly, 26 percent of rural adults hold a debit card and only 2 per cent of rural adults possess a credit card. Along with some socio-economic limitations, (like low income, lack of financial literacy, high‐transaction cost, time consuming processes, unavailability of bank branches, unfriendly behaviour of bank staff, lack of identity proof), some technological factors, (such as absence of deposit/withdrawal machines, unavailability of network, difficulty in using digital technology), are also responsible for this financial exclusion.
Hence, with the implementation of GramNet telecom services, some basic banking problems can be solved, and the rural unbanked people can be brought into the banking system. This is because, with the help of GramNet Wi-Fi services, rural individuals can access digital banking facilities without going to physical bank branches by connecting their mobile to the available Wi-Fi.
Besides this, with easy availability of Wi-Fi and e-banking facilities, rural individuals can also conduct their day-to-day activities (like bill payment, e-ticket, money transfer etc.) in more productive ways.
Together with these facilities, the GramNet telecom provision will have a major effect on the development of digital governance or e-governance and enhancement of small businesses in rural areas. Generally, in village areas, people travel to a nearby city or town to access their online services, (like online registration, filling up admission forms, the opening of Aadhar card, and obtaining other important documents). This consumes time, money and energy. Now, with the availability of GramNet, rural people can access these services by connecting their mobile phone to GramNet Wi-Fi.
Furthermore, rural people can obtain more government data and information, which will improve transparency and accountability in the system and fulfil the dream of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”. Similarly, with reference to the promotion of small businesses in rural areas, rural entrepreneurs can access global market information and exchange business ideas. Small business entrepreneurs, sitting in a remote village, can promote their products through online marketing, thus, globalising their services.
Nevertheless, to ensure the success of this programme, the government must solve some of the basic problems in rural India, such as poor facility of electricity, lack of understanding in digital technology, and less digital literacy.
Though the Prime Minister of India has pledged to provide reliable power to all households, in reality, millions of rural households are still living in darkness. Moreover, frequent power cuts in village areas are another major problem in rural India. Similarly, the consumer’s inability to understand and use digital technology is another major problem among rural individuals, which restricts them from the use of various digital technologies. Even if some of the consumers own a smartphone, a lack of knowledge about how to use it, difficulty in connecting to the internet, a problem in downloading apps and lack of understanding the instructions, result in reduced use of digital technology.
Hence, to mitigate these fundamental problems, the government should strengthen rural infrastructure and enhance digital literacy programmes for the rural masses. Otherwise, without solving these issues in rural India, the mere provision of GramNet telecom services will not fulfil the true essence of this programme.