New Delhi: The Union government is considering doubling spending on a high-speed Internet grid to connect villages across the country to ₹ 70,000 crore, communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
A committee appointed by the ministry has recommended raising the allocation for the National Optical Fibre Network to enable changes to the project, Prasad said in an interview on Friday in New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to approve the budget increase, according to Prasad.
“It is ambitious," Prasad said. “We laid down one million kilometres of fibre in 30 years. Now, we propose to lay down 700,000 kilometres in three years."
An increase in the outlay will help Prasad in the rollout of the broadband network that will link 250,000 village clusters to the Internet and is central to Modi’s $18 billion Digital India initiative. The higher spending could potentially expand opportunities for companies—from local optical fibre suppliers including Sterlite Technologies Ltd and Aksh Optifibre Ltd to telecommunications gear vendors including Cisco Systems Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co.
Previously, the government had budgeted ₹ 36000 crore for the broadband grid that is running behind its original schedule for completion by 2013. The ₹ 70,000 crore plan includes money already spent on the project.
India is considering allowing private companies to help build the network, department of telecommunications secretary Rakesh Garg said last month. Prasad did not name any private companies that might work on the project.
Almost 1.1 billion Indians remain offline mostly in rural areas, the largest non-Internet user population in the world, McKinsey and Co. estimated in a report last year. Low literacy levels and the struggle to afford web access in a nation where more than 700 million people live on less than $2 per day are among the obstacles the government’s digital push faces. Bloomberg