New Delhi: RailTel, the communications arm of Indian Railways, and the telecom department are mulling ways to deploy Wi-Fi hotspots at some 4,000 semi-urban and rural railway stations at an estimated cost of around Rs 400 crore.
The proposed initiative is aimed to give a big boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious ‘Digital India’ programme, with a deeper push into rural areas that haven’t been covered by telecom infrastructure so far.
“We have proposed a rural Wi-Fi plan at a cost of about Rs 400 crore,” RailTel Chairman RK Bahuguna told. “Now, we are in active discussions with the telecom department to convert at least 4,000 rural railway stations into high-speed Internet zones to offer citizen-centric services.”
The state-run company is seeking DoT’s approval to fund this programme through a Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund. The corpus was created in 2003 to support projects for communications and technology access to people in rural and remote areas at affordable prices.
“This (proposal) can ideally serve rural connectivity as vicinity inhabitants in villages across 8-10 km could be covered. Infrastructure at wayside railway stations can be utilized and it can host functions of a common service centre (CSC),” the RailTel top executive added.
The railways’ telecom infrastructure provider covers 70% of India’s population though optic fibre cable (OFC) network, connecting the country’s major semi-urban and rural regions.
“Rural areas are critical for the Digital India programme and Wi-Fi connectivity at railways stations can make a huge difference by offering a gamut of services such as banking, education, healthcare and employment to rural citizens,” Bahuguna said.
He said a rural Wi-Fi network can be rolled out very fast as the wayside railways stations already have a required bandwidth and are equipped with basic infrastructure such as power availability, and the spare space at premises can be turned into Internet-driven kiosk akin to CSCs.
A business model, according to him, is viable and a village panchayat or block-based model can be created for services offered using neighbourhood railway station infrastructure.
The telecom wing of the railways has more than 45,000 route km of optic fibre network across railway tracks, including the excess network of up to nearly 10,000 route km covering large cities.