Budget 2019: On a rainy Friday morning, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman doled out her maiden budget for the country that leverages the government's various policies and schemes to fulfil PM Modi's dream of a $5 trillion economy. Of course, Digital India was the highlight as it opens a multitude of streams for the government to reach out to the citizens and provide them with the proposed and existing benefits.
While asserting the government's achievements in the previous term, Sitharaman presented the blueprint of what is in the pipeline for the facelift of the rural areas in terms of connectivity. Finance Minister said that the proliferation of optical fibres in rural India will gain a boost in the coming years under the BharatNet project, which itself is a crucial ingredient of the Modi government's Digital India programme.
Sitharaman outlined the inclusion of the Universal Service Obligation Fund will expedite the BharatNet project across the rural areas of the country. "To bridge the rural-urban digital divide, BharatNet is targeting internet connectivity in local bodies in every panchayat in the country. This will be speeded up with the assistance of universal service obligation fund (USOF) under the public-private partnership," Sitharaman underscored in her speech at the Parliament.
The USOF, as it is commonly known as, will catalyse the process of connecting over 2.5 lakh village panchayats with optical fibre-powered high-speed broadband Internet. According to the data provided by the government, an outlay of Rs 50,554 crore was infused into the USOF at the end of May this year. So far, a healthy outreach of 3,33,195 kilometre of optical fibre cable has been laid down to connect 1,28,118 gram panchayats, as per the official data at May-end, giving an impetus to the government's BharatNet project.
Moreover, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stressed the work done under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan. As per the data revealed in the speech, over 2 crore rural Indians have received digital literacy so far. This, of course, goes hand in hand with the more aggressive penetration of high-speed Internet into rural areas of the country.
The government is setting a timeline of the next year, 2020 for tentatively reaching the targets. Interestingly, the timeline shared by the Finance Minister falls in line with the government's vision to make India '5G ready'.
In the Economic Survey presented by Sitharaman on Thursday, it was highlighted that the Modi government has earmarked various areas where the concrete actions will be taken to expedite the rollout of 5G services in India. The aim is to go along with the major countries that have already begun providing commercial 5G services to the consumers. In the US, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile among others have started offering 5G technology to wireless consumers. Meanwhile, in the UK, EE and Vodafone are now widening the rollout of 5G services in major cities.