Research Fellow Vigneshwara Ilavarasan shared the findings of the demand side study on BharatNet in the pilot sites in an open seminar hosted by Center for Internet & Society, Delhi office. The study examined the absorptive capacity of potential and current users of BharatNet in the pilot sites and offered policy suggestions on the basis of empirical data collected through rigorous sampling methods. The talk was attended by entrepreneurs, anthropologist, programmers, research scholars and civil society activists. The attendees were surprised by the poor awareness among the potential institutional users of BharatNet and followed up with lively discussion on policy suggestions. The slide set from the presentation is here.
More media in India are picking up on the importance of what we’ve learned about BharatNet. Voice and Data used information from the BharatNet study for a piece published on April 06, 2017. BharatNet (formally the National Optic Fibre Network) was meant to provide broadband internet to rural villages in India. While the existing network itself has issues, last-mile connectivity has been completely missed. LIRNEasia went in to look at the potential role of institutions to fill the gap, and found a serious lack of awareness and no significant middle-mile connections.
LIRNEasia’s Research Fellow, Dr. P. Vigneswara Ilavarasan (Associate Professor, IIT Delhi) shared the findings of the demand side study of BhrataNet (here) with Mr Osama Manzar and team at Digital Empowerment Foundation, New Delhi whose supply side study (here) is a perfect complementary work. Looking forward to work together to diffuse the BharatNet in rural India in coming days.
I am large, I contain multitudes. This is true, for sure, about India, on track to become the most populous nation in five years. India contains many visions and plans, not necessarily congruent, about connecting citizens to the Internet. The Walt Whitman line surely applies to what happens in Indian ICT policy too. Sam Pitroda worked up a plan to do the job using state-owned enterprises.
It’s been a while since LIRNEasia research has been featured in Indian newspapers. We’re making up for that: “70% of the institutional players such as schools, banks and health centers in rural India are not aware of government’s BharatNet initiative,” IIT Delhi professor and co-author P Vigneswara Ilavarasan of a survey by a think-tank LIRNEasia, told ET. He added that the overall Internet usage was low in areas where broadband has already reached. The findings were based on a survey conducted in the BharatNet pilot areas that included 1,329 institutional respondents in the Arain, Rajasthan, and Vizag and Parvada in Andhra Pradesh village blocks. “Of the overall scale, 30% of the respondents said that they are aware of the BharatNet scheme of which 8% claimed to have known the mega project very well,” the LIRNEasia survey found.
Just a few days before we presented our research to senior policy makers at the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the Indian Express carried a story highlighting some shortcomings in the implementation of BharatNet. This was possibly linked to a parliamentary question that had been posed around then. Now in a follow up piece, the journalist has directly quoted our research: A survey conducted by think-tank LIRNEasia and IIT-Delhi suggested that the use of BharatNet was in single-digits across areas surveyed. “Institutional users are pertinent as they would take the broadband from the gram panchayats to the individual consumers and households. The survey reveals that only one third of them use internet and nearly 70 per cent of non-users do not have any intention to use internet in near future.
This was the fourth (or fifth if one broadens the definition) broadband course we had taught in India. But there was something different about this course. Possibly it was because NOFN/BharatNet was becoming real on the ground. But it was not yet real in terms of connecting people as indicated by the report below. Out of the 65,475 gram panchayats where optic fibre cable has been laid, only 14,569 gram panchayats across 22 states have active connectivity as on December 6, according to Bharat Broadband Network Ltd.