India’s southern state of Kerala had achieved a unique status of becoming the country’s first digital state by linking all villages in the state with high speed broadband networks under the scheme of BharatNet (previous National Optical Fiber Network or NOFN). Indian President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee had formally announced the achievement of the state in a function to launch a Digital empowerment campaign in Kozhikode (old Calicut). The digital empowerment campaign is launched by the central government to reduce the digital divide by the year 2020.
Kerala has also the distinction of having the highest literacy rate in the country. The campaign for e-literacy will use 40,000 student police cadets to train 10 lakh people in panchayats and remote areas. The National Optical Fibre Network, which is renamed as BharatNet was initiated in 2011 in India aiming to connect 250,000 gram panchayats (village administrative units). A district named Idukki in Kerala is the first district in India to be fully connected by fiber optic networks in January 2015. BharatNet uses GPON technology to deliver high speed broadband services to rural areas in India.
GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) specified in ITU-T standards is the technology to deliver telecommunication signals over optical fibers using passive solutions such as optical fibers, splitters, etc by avoiding the use of active equipment that require electricity. GPON technology has many cost advantages compared to its competitors. One single fiber from the central office can be split to serve several customers, usually 64 or even 128. This technology can be used to serve 16 or 32 subscribers depending on the bandwidth requirement by the end-user.
Using high speed broadband networks, people will be able to see videos on the Internet as clearly as on television and make video calls too, among other things. The broadband network connecting all panchayats in India forms the core of the Prime Minister’s ambitious Digital India vision and project.
Kerala is also a pioneer in e-literacy having launched two breakthrough projects as early as 2002. The Akshaya project was launched with the objective of making at least one person in every family e-literate. The IT@school project aimed at providing basic computer knowledge to every high school student. Kerala has now over 600 e-governance applications covering almost all departments, delivering e-services to citizens. They are also being made available on the mobile platform now. Kerala has emerged as a truly ‘digital state’ with a mobile teledensity of 95% and Internet access covering over 60 % of the population.
Having the highest literacy rate and educational standards, the state of Kerala also has the distinction of the first state in India to achieve medical and human indices comparable to that of developing countries. Many Keralites work abroad as expatriate workers, especially in Middle East countries. Broadband connectivity to homes will enable better connectivity for those expatriates too for improved communication services. The broadband affordability rate is also higher in the state. Kerala government has initiated a digital literacy campaign leveraging its strong digital infrastructure. This initiative aims at the digital empowerment of citizens from all walks of life. It will enable ordinary citizens to effectively use the Internet to avail government and private services in a secure manner. Once extended to the entire state, the campaign will cover about three million citizens in the age group of 30-60 years.
The department of telecom (DOT) is supposed to complete BharatNet rollout to 250,000 villages and panchayats in India by March 2016 as per plans, but many projects are running late. Three public-sector units, BSNL, RailTel, and Power Grid, are tasked with the rollout work. The Prime Minister of India had taken special interest to accelerate the deployment of fiber optic networks all over India. The BharatNet project is now part of the government’s Digital India program to transform the country into a digitally-empowered knowledge economy. About 700,000 km of optical fiber cables would be laid across the country for the ambitious project and the total cost for this program estimated at the beginning was US$3billion and has been increased to US$4.5billion.