Surrounded by hills, Nandanam village in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh had never experienced Internet connectivity before.
Babu Reddy, a village-level entrepreneur who runs a digital kiosk or Common Service Centre, is however providing high-speed Fibre-to-Home connections to citizens now, utilizing the BharatNet fibre backbone, which is transforming the life of the villagers, especially its youth.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated Internet penetration in rural areas.
Data consumption in Panchayats connected to the BharatNet fibre backbone has increased to 150 Terabytes (TB) per month in May from about 55 TB per month during January, according to data from CSC e-Governance Services, which has been providing last mile connectivity through the BharatNet network to the gram panchayats since July 2019.
More than 300,000 subscribers registered for a fibre-to-home connection from Bharat Net in March, while 1.2 million have subscribed to its Wi-Fi service till date.
“With BharatNet being accessed by citizens through the common service centres, Internet consumption in rural areas has increased significantly. The limitation imposed due to the Covid-19 lockdown has also led to the surge, this shows that there was significant pent up demand in rural areas which was unserved earlier,” said Dinesh Tyagi, CEO of CSC e-Governance Services, which also maintains BharatNet’s optical fibre network.
Since CSC has been made the custodian of last mile operational issues, it has helped in the speedy roll-out and maintenance of the services, Tyagi added.
As far as consumption trends were concerned, Google’s YouTube was used the most, followed by Facebook and Netflix.
The growth in usage has been a whopping 219% for YouTube in March compared to January.
For Facebook, the growth has been 374% in the same period, while for Netflix it has been 422%.
Amazon’s content streaming platform Prime, Facebook’s photo sharing app Instagram, video conferencing tools Zoom and Webex, along with Twitter, are other popular apps in the top 10 list.
In an open letter written on the eve of his government completing one year of its second term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “The government policies have led to bridging the gulf between urban and rural lives. For the first time, the internet users in rural areas have outnumbered the urban counterparts by 10%.”
In July 2019, when CSC e-Governance Services’s special purpose vehicle took over, only around 22,000 gram panchayats were Internet enabled. Now, with close to 100,000 functional panchayats, the last mile internet connectivity drive in rural areas have been accelerated through its Wi-Fi Choupal programme, Tyagi said.
“This will help in creating not only a digitally inclusive society but also enabling access to government as well as non-government services such as telemedicine, banking, tele-agriculture, tele-law etc,” added Tyagi.