Digital India Initiatives

PM -WANI : As Game changer

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM-WANI

Mains level : Digital banking facilitation measures

The PM-WANI project seems to fit within the framework of an evolving decentralized concept to bridge the e-divide.

Practice Question:

With the PM-WANI, the state is expanding the reach of digital transformation to those who have been excluded till now. It is a game-changer because it has the potential to move Digital India to Digital Bharat. Discuss.

PM WANI – the ‘game-changer’

  • The term ‘game-changer’ can be seen as an accurate reflection of the capability of an initiative to change the status quo for Prime Minister’s Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, or PM WANI.
  • It provides for “Public Wi-Fi Networks by Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs) to provide public Wi-Fi service spread across the length and breadth of the country to accelerate the proliferation of Broadband Internet services through Public Wi-Fi network in the country”.

What the data shows

  • The initiative can help to bridge the increasing digital divide in India. Recently, the NITI Aayog CEO had said that India can create $1 trillion of economic value using digital technology by 2025.
  • As per the latest Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data, about 54% of India’s population has access to the Internet.
  • The 75th round of the National Statistical Organization survey shows that only 20% of the population has the ability to use the Internet.
  • The India Internet 2019 report shows that rural India has half the Internet penetration as urban, and twice as many users who access the Internet less than once a week.

Digital poverty

  • Umang App (Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance) allows access to 2,084 services, across 194 government departments, across themes such as education, health, finance, social security, etc.
  • The ability to access and utilize the app enhances an individual’s capabilities to benefit from services that they are entitled to.
  • With each move towards digitization, we are threatening to leave behind a large part of our population to suffer in digital poverty.
  • What the government is trying to achieve with PM-WANI is anyone living in their house, a paan shop owner or a tea seller can all provide public Wi-Fi hot posts, and anyone within range can access it.
  • This will also help to reduce the pressure on the mobile Internet in India. Going back to the India Internet report, it shows that 99% of all users in India access the Internet on mobile, and about 88% are connected on the 4G network.
  • This leads to a situation where everyone is connected to a limited network, which is getting overloaded and resulting in bad speed and quality of Internet access.

Key links

  • There are three important actors here.
  1. First is the Public Data Office (PDO). The PDO can be anyone, and it is clear that along with Internet infrastructure, the government also sees this as a way to generate revenue for individuals and small shopkeepers. It is important to note that PDOs will not require registration of any kind, thus easing the regulatory burden on them.
  2. Second is the PDOA, who is basically the aggregator who will buy bandwidth from the Internet service provider (ISPs) and telecom companies and sell it to PDOs, while also accounting for data used by all PDOs.
  3. The third is the app provider, who will create an app through which users can access and discover the Wi-Fi access points.
  • Two pillars have been given as a baseline for public Wi-Fi.
  1. Interoperability – where the user will be required to login only once and stay connected across access points.
  2. Multiple payment options – allowing the user to pay both online and offline.
  • The products should start from low denominations, starting with ₹2. It is suggested in the report that the requirement of authentication through stored e-know your customer (KYC) is encouraged, which inevitably means a linking with Aadhaar.

Aiding rural connectivity

  • The PM-WANI has the potential to change the fortunes of Bharat Net as well. Bharat Net envisions broadband connectivity in all villages in India.
  • The project has missed multiple deadlines, and even where the infrastructure has been created, usage data is not enough to incentivize ISPs to use Bharat Net infra to provide services.
  • One of the reasons for the lack of demand is the deficit in digital literacy in India and the lack of last-mile availability of the Internet.
  • The term digital literacy must be seen as an evolving decentralized concept, which depends on how people interact with technology in other aspects of their life and is influenced by local social and cultural factors.
  • The PM-WANI seems to fit within this framework, simply because it seeks to make accessing the Internet as easy as having tea at a chai shop. This is not a substitute for the abysmal digital literacy efforts of the government, but will definitely help.

Security, privacy issues

  • There are some concerns, mainly with respect to security and privacy. A large-scale study conducted at public Wi-Fi spots in 15 airports across the United States, Germany, Australia, and India discovered that two thirds of users leak private information whilst accessing the Internet.
  • Further, the TRAI report recommends that ‘community interest’ data be stored locally, raising questions about data protection in a scenario where the country currently does not have a data protection law in place.
  • These are, however, problems of regulation, state capacity and awareness and do not directly affect the framework for this scheme.
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