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Kerala aims to provide free Internet for poor families, public offices by Dec

The project will provide free Internet for more than 20 lakh poor families and over 30,000 government institutions, including offices, schools, IT parks, airports and ports. (Photo: AFP)Premium
The project will provide free Internet for more than 20 lakh poor families and over 30,000 government institutions, including offices, schools, IT parks, airports and ports. (Photo: AFP)

  • KSEB holds 50% in the 1,548 crore KFON project, with the rest held by Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd. The optic-fiber network is being laid by using its electricity poles to avoid the cost of laying underground cables

BENGALURU: Kerala aims to start providing free, high-speed Internet to schools, public offices, and poor households in the state by December, making digital connectivity a basic right, said a senior government official.

The project, when launched, will be another milestone for the state that has achieved several human development indicators (HDI) that match those of first-world countries, especially in connection with health.

The first of its kind among states but similar to the government of India's BharatNet project, the project will provide free Internet for more than 20 lakh poor families and over 30,000 government institutions, including offices, schools, IT parks, airports and ports.

A consortium led by public-sector company Bharat Electronics Ltd was awarded the contract by Kerala Fibre Optic Network Project or KFON, a special purpose vehicle tasked to implement the project using fiber-optic technology. It strives to bring Internet connectivity at speeds of 10Mbps to 1Gbps.

The project is in the final stages of laying down the 52,746 km-long fiber-optic cables, said a senior official. "Work is progressing in full swing, more than 80% is finished. If no other obstructions come in our way, we shall be completing the work by December," said NS Pillai, chairman and managing director Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).

KSEB holds 50% of shares in the 1,548 crore KFON project, with the rest held by Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd. Like in most states, the public sector power utility has a monopoly over electricity distribution and transmission in Kerala. The optic-fiber network is laid by using its electricity poles, so as to avoid the additional cost of laying underground cables.

"The project is devised in a manner that it will not be compromising on quality. We will be putting ourselves in competition with the connectivity offered by any private player. Currently, government schools in Kerala alone pay 15-20 crore as Internet charges. The panchayats and other government organs might be paying another 20-40 crore. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, these bills have skyrocketed now. Altogether, several state arms are paying 75-100 crore for the Internet as of now," said Pillai.

KFON will collaborate with internet service providers for the service. Pillai said not only it will be a booster for e-governance, but also a money-spinner by leasing out the high-speed network for a fee to other service providers like cable operators, telecom operators, Internet service providers and content service providers. Once the project recoups its initial investment, the government shall aim to move the cables underground so as to withstand climate extremities, Pillai said.

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