Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative is likely to kick off with a big bang plan to roll out free Wi-Fi internet connections in 2,500 cities and towns across the country.
The roll-out will happen over the next three years through state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, said a report in The Times of India, adding the plan will entail an investment of Rs 7,000 crore.
The free internet service will be available from the next financial year itself, will be available to subscribers of all mobile networks and will offer speeds that will match that offered by 4G technology, BSNL chairman and managing director Anupam Shrivastava has told the newspaper here.
However, there will be cap on how much free internet users can enjoy before needing to pay for further data usage.
For those who have MTNL and BSNL connection, net access in another city will come with a nominal roaming charge, the report says.
The cities that will get the facility include Kolkata, Chennai, Lucknow, Dehradun, Hyderabad, Varanasi, Bhopal, Jaipur, Patna, Indore, Chandigarh and Ludhiana.
Digital India is a plan envisioned by Modi "to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy". The key to the programme is turning high-speed internet into a core utility.
According to the information available with the Digital India website, the government plans to extend coverage of the information infrastructure nationally by March 2017 at a cost of Rs 15,686 crore.
The benefits of the roll-out of free Wi-Fi in 2,500 cities are likely to be two-fold, and as the report says, it will help the loss-making state-run BSNL and MTNL to turn profitable and secondly, internet businesses will see an unprecedented boom.
Turning around BSNL is in line with the much-talked-about Modi strategy of improving the efficiency level of loss-making or sick PSUs.
Of the internet-based businesses, e-commerce is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the move. The boost to the sun-rise sector, which has seen many entrepreneurs starting up businesses over the last few years, will also indirectly help the economy as it increases the consumption demand. A revival in consumption is key to economic revival, which is expected to take place in the next two years or so.
However, everything depends on how fast the fiscally strained government will be able to find financial resources to invest in such a huge project.