Digitization a win-win for India govt, ecosystem

Efforts will not just help boost state coffers, but also provide market opportunities for industry and help bridge urban-rural divide for more equitable growth.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

NEW DELHI--India's ambitious digitization drive--with a deadline of Mar. 31, 2013 for the second phase--is win-win for the ecosystem as well as the government, opening up more market opportunities and boosting state coffers.

"The government is sensitive to the consumers. We are closely working with the ecosystem as we move into the second phase of digitization," said Manish Tewari, Indian minister of state for information and broadcasting. He was speaking at the inauguration of the annual industry event Convergence India 2013.

As per recommendation by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), digitization would garner nearly US$5 billion in revenue, Tewari added. Digitization will also help the government pursue India's broadband goals.

"Convergence across media, entertainment and telecom space especially with digitization kicking in is inevitable. Therefore, at some point in time there will have to be an overarching architecture which looks at it holistically," he noted.

Other speakers at the session, such as Shriraj Gaglani, global head of business development of Broadcom, and Rahul Nehra, global head of sales and marketing at Exset, spoke about how digitization and television-commerce can enrich the lives of the people in rural India.

"Television has a wide reach and the potential of T-commerce is immense," Nehra said.

Broadcom has set up a new platform to accelerate India's cable TV digitization. The company has also tied up with IT players like Google and Adobe for its connected home platform that enables seamless interaction of devices, such as the set top box, smart televisions, mobile phones and smart appliances.

Bridge urban-rural divide to enrich lives
At the event themed "Enriching a Billion Lives", speakers focused on the need to create jobs in rural India through higher broadband penetration and convergence in order to bring about equitable growth.

"India needs to take IT-ITES to tier-2, tier-3 towns and rural areas. Broadband needs to be made ubiquitous. Just as villages need more roads and electricity, they also need broadband," said N. Ravi Shanker, additional secretary and administrato for Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).

This way, India will be able to bridge the gap between urban and rural India, Shanker noted.

Every year, millions of people from villages migrate to Indian cities in search of work. As a result, there is considerable pressure on the infrastructure in Indian cities--like Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai--with real estate prices skyrocketing. "There is need to decongest urban India. And that can only happen if we provide employment opportunities in rural India," Shanker said.

In June 2012, the Indian government rolled out the National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) that seeks to provide connectivity to 250,000 gram panchayats (local self-governments at the village level). The network is being rolled out by the Bharat Broadband Network (BBNL), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) specifically created by the government for the implementation of this project. The cost of this project is around US$3.65 billion (INR 200 billion).

Rajiv Bawa, chief representative in India for Telenor group said: "There is a huge link between broadband penetration and GDP growth."

A World Bank study has estimated that a 10 percent increase in broadband connectivity leads to a 1.38 percent increase in GDP. At present, broadband penetration in India is less than 2 percent.

Enriching lives through BPOs
According to Shanker, the Indian government had two options for increasing last mile connectivity--wait for the telcos to roll out telecom services in rural India or go in for a nationwide roll out. "The Indian government has chosen the latter. There will be several learnings along the way," he said.

BBNL will be laying the incremental cable from wherever it exists today (usually at the block level), to the gram panchayat. This will involve laying about 500,000 kilometers of optical fiber and would ensure broadband connectivity with adequate bandwidth.

NOFN has the potential to transform many services and sectors within rural India by providing video, data, Internet and telephone services. It can impact education, business, entertainment, agriculture, environment, health as well as the existing e-governance services.

"While initially, we will see more government to customer (G2C) deployments, in time the B2C models will also pick up," Shanker said.

“The telecom industry not just enriches, but transforms lives,” Bawa said. The National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2012 has set the target of providing affordable and reliable broadband on demand by 2015. According to the policy, telecom and broadband connectivity must be recognized as a basic necessity like education and health.

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