In our seventh year based in Kerala, India we have experienced progress each year in the quality of connectivity, but another state to the north may become India’s superstar of connectivity, faster than we can imagine:
By Hui Wu
THE TRENCH RUNNING along the road linking Kodicherla and Penjarla in southern India is just 5 feet deep and about half as wide. Yet it carries the promise of a better life for the people of those villages, and all of Telangana.
Within the ditch lie two pipes, a large black one carrying fresh water and smaller blue one containing a fiber optic broadband cable. The government of Telangana, a state born of the 2014 secession from Andhra Pradesh after its residents accused the government of systematic neglect, is doing something unprecedented in India: bringing broadband internet to every rural home in the region, some 23 million people in all.
Of the 4 billion people around the globe without access to the internet, one-quarter of them live in India.Many, including tech giants in the US, are eager to close this gap. The same year that Telangana seceded, Facebook targeted India for Internet.org. The service, now called Free Basics, provides a free but limited internet to rural areas of the developing world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to discuss the proposal, and the company launched the service in 2015.
Indians almost immediately rejected it, arguing that the platform was biased because it offered only a limited number of online services and violated the notion of net neutrality by privileging Facebook and a few others. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India blocked Internet.org about early last year. The country clearly saw an online future brighter than what Facebook was offering.
And now Telangana is building it.
From the start, the government of this emerging state wanted to do something to immediately and significantly improve people’s lives. Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao decided that running water is an absolute necessity. Bringing that to the state’s thousands of rural villages required laying pipes. K.T. Rama Rao, who is the minister of Information Technology and the chief minister’s son, convinced the government to lay fiber optic broadband cables at the same time. “We were just envisioning and visualizing how it would be to have a state that is completely connected and wired,” he says. “What are the possibilities?”
They named the project Telangana Fiber.
Bits and Pieces
Once a week, Ravinder Kethavath rides his motorcycle a little more than 7 miles into town just to log onto the internet. Sitting in a tiny cybercafé, he browses job postings and checks on upcoming exams for the police service. Then he rides home. Kethavath, 24, lives in a village about 60 miles from the state capital of Hyderabad, and says a home internet connection offers an immediate path to a better life. “I could easily get updates and alerts related to jobs and news as well as have a bright future, which would allow me to take good care of my mother and sister,” he says.
Internet access in rural India is piecemeal. You can find Wi-Fi hotspots in many towns, where young, tech-savvy users watch YouTube videos on smartphones. But connections are slow and unreliable, if available at all. Although Telangana’s rural residents comprise just over 2 percent of the offline population of India, Rao believes connecting Kethavath’s generation would bring immense change to the country…
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