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Broadband Highways: Challenges and Opportunities

Digital India’s success depends upon the successful implementation of its first program among its nine program – Broadband Highways. This is a challenge for the government but an opportunity for business and start-ups, and a much needed empowering tool for the common people.

It has three sub-parts:

1. Broadband for All – Rural 

India’s 2, 50,000 villages will be connected through broadband under the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN). The deadline for completing this project is December 2016.

2.  Broadband for All – Urban

As per TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) recommendations, Virtual Network Operators (VNO) – those companies who provide telecom services without owning a network infrastructure, would be leveraged for their service in new urban areas. The government would mandate new buildings for VNOs for this purpose.

3. National Information Infrastructure (NII)

NII – A department created to collect software, hardware, creating a network and do the system integration, would be having a main task to provide high speed internet to various government organizations up to the panchayat level. It would integrate the network and cloud infrastructure to speed up the ‘Digital India’ (DI) campaign.

Opportunity for Businesses:

The $20 billion program provides a huge opportunity for the business around the world. Broadband Highways present a number of opportunities for a variety of sectors which include:

  1. Handset maker and telecom companies such as Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, Xiaomi, Huawei and other players will reap the benefits of increasing demand of mobile phones due to increased internet connectivity.
  2. Hardware and software companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Google Android and other players have already extended their hands towards this program and most of the companies are ready to invest in India.
  3. The consultancy agencies such as KPMG, E&G, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Accenture, all will provide their research and marketing knowledge to investors looking for investment in DI.
  4. Civil contractors such as L&T and Reliance Infra who would have to provide infrastructure facilities such as nationwide fibre optic network and installation facilities.
  5. This will provide opportunities for banks, ecommerce and educational institutions (Both online and offline) to exploit this opportunity in their favour.

Probably, this size of national program in the world has been never attempted before on the scale as Indian government has planned to execute. Indian government expects to complete this program by 2019 with a vision of zero net import by 2020.

Benefits for common people:

Beginning from 1970s to its phenomenal expansion in 2000s, internet has evolved from a US military project to a central communication platform around the globe. It has also become a social and economic hub for billions of people. More the information people have, more they are empowered. Why the US and European government is more accountable to people – apart from highly educated citizens, internet has provided the ultimate weapon to masses to seek information and show their grievances through social media. Now countries are emphasizing on providing not only governance but e-governance.

India has the world’s second largest population after China and where more than 60% of population live in rural areas – the expansion of internet to villages will surely provide a platform to not only government but common people too to enhance their effective participation in governance. The proposed BH which simply means internet access to all over India, will open the doors of huge investment and employment opportunities as envisioned by the government. It will be also a huge opportunity for the ecommerce companies as the number of internet consumers will increase dramatically. Government may also initiate e-education, panchayat level government websites, internet banking for all, and other such schemes which will transform India into a digitally literate India. However, it is not the first time that a government has announced something new, there were many initiatives launched in the past but not materialized due to the decades known implementation problem.


If this grand scheme is implemented successfully, it would transform citizens’ access to information, services and content. Broadband connections are available in India for almost a decade but currently, there are only 15 million wire line broadband users. So, the first challenge for the government of laying the fibre cables. But on the other hand, mobile broadband has exploded in the country and India has the second highest internet users in the world. BharatNet has been provided the task of connecting up to gram panchayats. Even if the government would be able to lay down the fibre optic cables, the biggest challenge will be to ensure that each panchayat point of broadband is smoothly working – it needs not only a pool of skilful manpower but also a great amount of investment.

According to Osama Manzar (founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation), 67% of the NOFN points are non-functional even at the pilot stage. It is expected that if BH is not implemented on time, other projects under the Digital India would also be delayed. Even if broadband is reached to gram panchayats – what are the services the government will be offering remains confusing for the common people.

Thirdly, Indian government has no service platform or content platform to attract the users and that’s why Indian Prime Minister wants to have a partnership with social networking applications such as Facebook to fill this gap.

In a globalized world, Digital India promises a better future for the entire country and people are hoping high. However, implementation  will be a tough task for the government. The broadband highway is a virtual highway made to deliver the national interest. There are huge challenges ranging from investment, technology, bureaucracy and other problems such as content delivery which needs a better attention in order to make BH into a highway of prosperity.

However, this project provides an opportunity for the Indian start-ups and entrepreneurs, as it is expected that government will seek content and service partnerships for delivery.


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