India’s new government has announced plans to roll out a universal Internet access scheme, which will include mobile internet, video calling, data roaming and access to cloud computing.
The telecom regulator on Tuesday announced that the scheme, to be rolled out by the end of next month, would offer all citizens a free broadband connection to all internet-connected devices.
The plan, which aims to provide 100Mbps (megabits per second) connections to 1.4 billion Indians, is one of several proposals being considered to boost internet connectivity in the country, a move that will come amid growing pressure from India’s government to boost its fledgling economy.
However, the scheme is likely to face fierce opposition in the run-up to the general elections, with critics of the government arguing that it would not be fair for the poor and rural areas to get the same speeds as those of rich cities.
While the government said it would provide free internet to all the country’s citizens, there are concerns that this could only be achieved through a “mobile internet” scheme.
A mobile internet scheme would allow users to connect to their device on the same network that it is on, as opposed to being tied to a particular ISP, which might be a major drawback in India.
The proposal also appears to contradict the government’s stated desire to encourage investments in the Internet sector, which the government claims is needed to boost growth and improve the countrys economy.
India’s Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal has recently argued that India needs to invest in broadband to boost productivity, and to give it access to the world.
But critics of Sibal’s plans have said that the country needs to focus on broadband as an essential service that provides connectivity to the country and to the poor.
“We should focus on building a global infrastructure that connects the poor to the rest of the world, not to get broadband, a product that has no value and is not a necessity,” said Ashish Deshpande, the head of communications at the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PIFL).
The Communications and Internet Ministry’s latest move to roll-out the universal internet is also seen by many as a bid to woo investment in its infrastructure.
While telecoms companies have been lobbying the government to roll back the telecoms regulator’s decision, telecom companies have also sought to use the scheme to push for better broadband services in India, arguing that access to a universal service will lead to better service.