With almost 700 million internet users in India in 2021, there has been a consistent rise in internet penetration in the country. The Internet has become a basic need for people. The pandemic has precipitated this need and today an average household requires 20 GB of internet per day for productive use.
However, we still see a digital divide in the country, which has only grown wider between urban and rural users. While the number of rural subscribers makes up a significant majority of the population, they are not nearly as half as the urban internet users in India. Though the 4G/3G mobile networks have made basic internet access (1GB per day) affordable, the consumption requirements remain unfulfilled with daily limits. In fact, globally 80% internet is consumed inside homes using a home internet connection. India in this regard falls behind at just 7% penetration of home internet compared to 92% as seen in China and 55% in countries like Russia and Brazil.
To bridge this digital gap between urban and rural populations, the government of India has launched the PM WANI initiative that aims to make the internet affordable and easily accessible by all. Price-point being one of the main hindrances for low internet users in rural areas, the government, through this initiative aims to further boost the internet infrastructure by offering internet to all at almost no cost. This will help in the proliferation of public Wi-Fi networks throughout the country that would massively increase internet access at cheap prices.
Another issue widely faced in India, when we look at internet access, is the unavailability of access points or internet hotspots in all locations. This results in ununiformed access to the internet among the mass and causes a barrier in internet penetration, further increasing the digital divide. To address this issue, PM WANI has created a framework whereby anyone can set up a public Wi-Fi or a Public Data Office (PDO). The entity who wishes to become a PDO can purchase broadband service from a service provider and then register themselves with an aggregator or PDOA who is responsible for authorization and accounting. This would allow access points to growing organically in places that need them the most.
Moreover, if you have extra internet that you do not plan to use, you can sell it to friends or neighbors, or even strangers. This approach leads to 10X better utilization of existing infrastructure and opens up affordable internet for millions. Imagine if 20 million households who currently have broadband connection decide to share it with 5 more people each. 100 million people would have access to fast affordable internet within months. A 10% increase in connectivity can increase GDP by ~1.5%.
To conclude, multiple Wi-Fi access points would boost the internet connectivity in India, thereby bringing us one step closer to the goal of Digital India. This would also result in an improved quality of life, especially in an increasingly digital economy. Internet access would provide businesses the power and freedom to expand their reach and also provide a platform for local players. It will further help individuals to gain access to various learning platforms, increase communication between communities, and lead to progress. After all, the world is getting more and more connected and PM WANI comes at the right time to ensure that India progresses as a connected and equitable society, paving way for opportunities for all.
Above is an opinion article by Satyam Darmore, Founder i2e1, India’s first PM WANI compliant Wi-Fi company.