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DoT appoints new body dedicated to increasing broadband connections

With providing broadband connectivity to all villages by 2022 being a target, the new body has its work cut out.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will set up a new directorate to track and implement the National Broadband Mission, the department said in a notification on November 9. The directorate will submit monthly progress reports on the mission to the telecom secretary, the notification said.

The DoT had launched the National Broadband Mission in 2019 with aggressive targets, including 100% rural connectivity and average broadband speeds of 25mbps. With our increased dependence on the internet for essential services, the stakes for achieving these targets are higher than ever before.

What will be the function of the directorate?

The full-time directorate for the National Broadband Mission, which will be composed of 7 full-time personnel, will have the following functions:

  • Progress tracking: Three deputy mission directors under the body will monitor the progress of:
    1. Mobile and wired broadband penetration
    2. Right of way clearances
    3. Mapping Optical fibre cables and mobile towers
  • Monthly reports: The directorate will submit monthly progress reports on the goals of the National Broadband Mission to the Telecom Secretary.
  • Public Dashboard: The directorate will create a dashboard on the DoT portal and update it every month to keep the public informed about the mission’s progress.

What is the National Broadband Mission?

The National Broadband Mission was launched in 2019. Here are some of the deliverables under the mission:

  1. To provide broadband connectivity in all villages by 2022
  2. To provide infrastructure capable of delivering higher speeds of broadband up to 50 Mbps
  3. Increase the route length of Optical Fibre Cables from the current 22 lakh kilometers to 50 lakh kilometers.
  4. To increase the tower density from the current 0.42 towers per thousand people (around 5.65 lakh towers) to 1.0 per thousand population by setting up an additional 10 lakh towers.
  5. To increase the number of fiberised telecom towers from 30% to 70%
  6. To create a Geographic Information System (GIS) based tool for accurate planning for new networks and seamless management of the entire integrated infrastructure.

To work towards these targets, the government has been introducing a slew of regulatory reforms, most recently removing security requirements for telecom towers to ease the process of giving permits.

What is the current status of internet connectivity in India?

  • Consistent increase in internet connections: Since at least June 2020, there has been a consistent increase in internet subscriptions in India. In the last quarter, however, growth of connections slowed down to 1%.

    Source: TRAI Report

  • Low connectivity in schools: Out of more than 15 lakh schools in India, only 22.3 percent had access to the internet in the academic year 2019-2020, a report by the Ministry of Education revealed in July this year.

In the coming years, achieving the goal of internet connections in 100% of villages is going to be crucial, especially to ensure the right to education. The Supreme Court observed the need for increased efforts in this direction in a judgement on October 8:

The needs of young children who represent the future of the country are being ignored. The State cannot wash its hands off the obligation imposed particularly by Article 21 A of the Constitution. A solution has to be arrived at, at all levels of the government both in the States and in the Centre to ensure that adequate facilities are made available to children across social strata so that access to education is not denied to those who lack resources — the three-judge bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and B.V. Nagarathna noted in an order. (emphasis ours)

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