PM WANI Scheme Analysis – UPSC GS3

  • 10% rise in net penetration led to a 1.4% increase in GDP : TRAI
India’s Digital Divide:
  • Accessibility: About 54% of India’s population has access to the Internet (TRAI Report).
  • Digital Literacy: only 20% of the population has the ability to use the Internet (75th round of National Statistical Organisation survey)
  • Digital Divide: Rural India has half the Internet penetration as urban, and twice as many users who access the Internet less than once a week (India Internet 2019 report)
  • Lack of access to quality internet: 99% of all users in India access the Internet on mobile, and about 88% are connected on the 4G network, resulting in overloading of a limited network.
  • Quality of Internet: According to Digital Quality of Life Index 2020, India was placed at 9th position in Internet Affordability, outperforming even countries like the UK, the USA and China. While, for Internet Quality and E-infrastructure, India was almost at the bottom of the pillar placed at 78th and 79th (out of 85) positions respectively.
PM WANI Scheme:
  • Ensuring last mile connectivity:
    • Aims to bridge the divide using wireless technologies by enabling public wi-fi data service.
    • PDOs will basically be small retail outlets across the length and breadth of the country.
  • Source of Income: Will help in creating new avenues of income for small entrepreneurs (e.g. tea sellers).
  • Easy setup: No need to obtain licenses.
  • Cost-effective: Unlike upcoming mobile technologies such as 5G (high investment in the new spectrum, connectivity equipment and regular subscriber fees).
  • Economic benefits: TRAI noted that a 10% rise in net penetration led to a 1.4% increase in GDP.
  • Boosting transparency and interactivity: Internet access will also ease education, telehealth and agriculture extension, and bring greater accountability to government.
  • Complement data services sold by mobile telecom firms.
  • Improving internet penetration in rural India: Presently, 27.57 subscribers per 100 population in 2019.
  • Opens up opportunities: for community organisations, libraries, educational institutions, panchayats and small entrepreneurs to tap into a whole new ecosystem.
  • Jobs: It has the potential to generate over 2 crore jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities, besides offering a cost-effective means of mass connectivity.
  • Network Security: Most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt information that is sent over the Internet and therefore aren’t secure. This could potentially lead to hacking or unapproved access to personal information on the device.
  • Viability:
    • The viability of public Wi-Fi networks in India has also been called into question with several tech-giants already having tried and failed.
    • In 2017, social media company Facebook had launched Express Wi-Fi. The project made little impact.
    • Google’s Station project, to provide free wi-fi in more than 400 railway stations across India and “thousands” of other public places, which was launched in 2015, was shut down earlier this year.
Way forward:
  • The government must ensure robust service: along with protection of data integrity, transparency on commercial use of data, and security against cyberattacks.
  • To prevent monopolies: The government must also ensure true unbundling of hardware, software, apps and payment gateways in the WANI system, as advocated by TRAI.
Conclusion: Executed properly, the Public Data Offices (PDOs) of PM WANI can do what the PCOs did for phone calls, going well beyond ‘ease of doing business’ to genuinely empower citizens.
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