ToI reports a 18000 crore broadband push by government to improve broadband access to every gram panchayat. While the initiative is welcome, it raises several questions:

  • Investing versus creating an environment to invest: Government spending at such massive scale has been shown to be inefficient over and over again. What are the incentives that the government can create to attract private investment in this sector? The initiative around Common Service Centers is an interesting one – what will it take for that initiative to include backend infrastructure in addition to just the centers?
  • Access versus ownership: The big success story around access is the PCO. That was 20 years back – that story has been substituted by the mobile revolution, which is a story centered around ownership. Ownership creates a level of value that can not be matched by access alone. What are the incentives and policy initiatives to encourage ownership? Incentives on broadband, on ownership of laptops/desktops, applications? Broadband access targets at every district level?
  • Rural versus inclusive: The exclusive focus on rural areas is surprising. The state of broadband access in urban areas is dismal, and perhaps represents the bigger bang for the buck. Why are such initiatives confined to rural areas? What will it take to make these initiatives inclusive?

There are several recommendations that the industry has put out around solving these issues – I am no expert at that. I also welcome this initiative, rather than not doing anything. However, having seen what all of us have in the mobile world, it seems like a huge loss of opportunity to not address this issue with greater force.