PM-WANI: Bridging India's Digital Divide

PM-WANI: Bridging India's Digital Divide
Posted on 20-09-2023

Transforming India's Digital Landscape: PM-WANI's Potential for Inclusive Connectivity

India's Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) has played a pivotal role in realizing the Digital India vision, but challenges persist in bridging the gap between data demand and affordability, particularly in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. One promising solution is the Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) initiative, which has the potential to revolutionize India's digital landscape.

Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI):

DPI encompasses an open-source identity platform that facilitates access to a wide array of government and private services through application programming interfaces (APIs) like India Stack. It encompasses digital identification, verification, civil registration, digital payments, data exchange, and information systems. DPI is characterized by its customizability, localization, interoperability, and utilization of public data for innovative models.

Digital India Programme:

The Digital India Programme focuses on three main pillars: connectivity, on-demand software and services, and the digital empowerment of citizens. It has transformed connectivity through factors like the proliferation of mobile telephony, 4G coverage, reduced tariffs, and increased smartphone adoption. Policies like Net Neutrality and the development of DPI components, such as Digital ID and UPI (Unified Payments Interface), have driven a surge in digital transactions, with the potential to boost India's GDP significantly.

Impact of Digital India Programme:

Since its launch in 2015, the Digital India campaign has made substantial contributions to various sectors, connecting over 12,000 rural post offices electronically and bolstering healthcare and education through DPI. Strengthening online infrastructure promises further economic growth.

Challenges of Digital India Programme:

Challenges include digital illiteracy, with a significant portion of the population still lacking internet access. Language diversity further complicates digital literacy efforts. Another challenge is the wide gap between data demand (per capita data consumption at 19.5 GB per month) and affordable supply, particularly in rural and low-income households.

Government's Initiative Towards Affordable Supply of Data:

PM-WANI: To address the affordability gap, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) proposed the creation of interoperable public Wi-Fi hotspots in 2017. This concept, similar to PCOs (Public Call Offices), introduced Public Data Offices (PDOs) to provide affordable, sachet-sized broadband packages. Successfully piloted as Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI), this transformational idea was approved by the Union Cabinet in December 2020.

Advantages of PM-WANI: PM-WANI has installed over 1.5 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots in the past year, offering unlimited internet access for a nominal fee of Rs 5-10. By introducing entities like PDOs, PDOAs, app providers, and a central registry, it has created an open and scalable framework, akin to UPI in the financial sector. This framework presents a lucrative business opportunity for aggregators, eliminating the need for additional licensing fees.

A Win-Win Situation for All: India's home broadband penetration is among the lowest globally. PM-WANI represents an opportunity to bridge the digital divide by accelerating high-speed internet access, providing a robust foundation for affordable connectivity. This initiative benefits key stakeholders, nurturing the growth of local nano-entrepreneurs who augment their incomes while promoting internet usage.

Way Forward:

Existing underutilized infrastructure, owned by major companies like RailTel and GAIL, presents an opportunity for PM-WANI to flourish. This initiative can also benefit Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Telcos by enabling them to sell more bandwidth through their end customers.

Conclusion: PM-WANI, with its focus on interoperability, openness, and scalability, needs active promotion by all stakeholders. Its potential to accelerate like UPI and other DPIs being developed in India holds promise for transforming the country's digital landscape.

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