Secretary, Department of Telecom & Department
of Information Technology, Ministry of Communication & Information Technology
R Chandrashekhar talks about the noble responsibility that he is shouldering, and the road ahead in the Department of Telecom in a freewheeling interview with Dr Ravi Gupta and Dr Rajeshree Dutta Kumar
The rural areas though have the mobile connectivity, the data connectivity is abysmally low. So, what is the roadmap or vision for the rural data connectivity?
One of the key objectives on communications infrastructure has been to provide connectivity to the rural areas, to support various kinds of activities including broadband services, simple financial services ranging from education to entertainment which are bandwidth intensive and livelihood services. It would be a wrong model if we look at rural areas as mere consumers of various services and the communication infrastructure to provide the services. Given the economic profile in the rural areas, its equally important that this broadband infrastructure can be used by people in rural areas for purposes related to their livelihood enhancing their own income, opening opportunities for earning additional income by way of greater access to markets, buying the kind of things that they need for the agricultural activities, training programmes for enhancing their skill sets and rural BPOs for providing marketable services. So all of these, are linked to free flow of money. The combination of all of these is important to make the communication revolution also result in economic revolution for people in rural areas. If this does not happen then the mere availability of communication and broadband will only result in underutilisation of this infrastructure as people will not have the buying power to consume the services. This should be the emphasis. Between connectivity and services, it is connectivity that should happen and open up markets. So the broadband has an important purpose of integrating rural and urban areas, thereby spreading economic opportunities evenly in both the areas.
What are the activities that are happening at the block level?
As of now, we do have reliable connectivity and more than 95 per cent blocks are connected as there is optical fibre. But it is below the block level that the problem arises as there is no optical fibre, where the quality and reliability is not so good. So the effort is to extend the core network to connect the district headquarters to block levels and panchayats also. The objective is to reach every significant habitation which is a mammoth task. So the first step is to go with the aggregation layer which connects the tributaries to the core like in the telecom sector. Various service providers can be connected through the aggregation layer. When it comes to the last mile, the strategy is to use wireless in conjunction with wireline which will be provided by service providers and also pursue the goal convergence at the carriage level to make use of all infrastructure. Getting optical fibre to all the village is a difficult task
“the broadband has an important purpose of integrating rural and urban areas to spread economic oppurtunities evenly in both the areas”
Please throw some light on USO funds. Are they optimally used.Can you throw light on the ongoing changes?
Yes, the USO fund has not been aggressively used in the past. So we are working on a strategy to use this funds to achieve the goals. The key government programmes are increasingly getting digitized, especially the rural programmes, so the need for ensuring connectivity to the last mile has increased. The next important thing is targeting or identification of these programmes are also important. So UID is also getting its importance. So digitisation of these are happening now. In the coming 2-3 years, the maturing of all these programmes can be seen.To ensure the utilisation, we have created a dedicated organisation to rule out the role of optical fibre. So that no time is lost in building this organisation.This organisation is nucleated within the organisation i.e BSNL. The next important aspect we are working aggressively is working on spreading infrastructure. Getting optical fibre to every panchayat is what we are targeting. But for all this creating the right content, digitizing and creating the necessary ecosystem are the challenging areas for us. The most challenging part is to change the people’s mindset.
Please share your agenda on connecting all institutions, offices and schools ?
The ultimate goal is to provide optical fibre to each and every village with intention of connecting the key institutions, with developmental focus area like education, health, skill development. These three are the major areas we have to work upon extensively. Along with this, there are other governance related areas which also need to be taken care of. The institutions at the local level are panchayats, hospitals, schools etc which need to be connected. This is a mammoth task to achieving. Too big a task which cannot be achieved by one organization alone. The connectivity is entirely the job of the Telecommunications Department. There are other aspects which are also time taken. For instance, if a project for health services has to be implemented through the digital medium, there are a number of functions that needs to be put in order other than just laying of the optical fibre, upon extensively. Along with this, there are other governance related areas which also need to be taken care of. The institution at the local level are panchanyats, hospitals, schoolsetcwhich need to be connected. This is a mommoth taskto achieve which ia too big a task which cannot be achieved by one organisation alone. The connectivity is entirely the job of the Telecommunications Department. There are other5 aspects which are also time-consuming. For instance, if a project for health services has to be implemented through the digital medium, there are a number of functions that needs to be put in order other than just laying of the optical fibre atleast equipped with some functions ready. Like in schools, the HRD is already equipped with a massive programme