Thiruvananthapuram: Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad Monday commissioned India's first hi-speed rural broadband network in Kerala's Idukki district, calling the project a "giant leap" to bridge the digital divide in the country.
Speaking at the inauguration at the Technopark campus, the biggest IT hub in the state, Prasad said the country was witnessing "a new era of digital empowerment" and his government "has firmly set its focus on the all round development and inclusive growth of the country".
"NOFN (National Optical Fibre Network) project is a giant leap in order to bridge the digital divide in India by linking all gram panchayats through the common platform of optical fibre cable. I extend my complete support to this project and I am proud to be a part of this new digital journey in India's history," the minister said.
"To create a 'digital India' the state and centre has to work together. The government is planning to start common service centres in the rural villages and women should participate in running these centres," said Prasad.
NOFN is set to link 600 million rural citizens of India across 2.5 lakh gram panchayats of India spread over 6,600 blocks and 631 districts through broadband optical fibre network.
The first stage links all the village councils in the hilly Kerala district that has a large tribal population.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy termed it a momentous day for the state and thanked the central government for choosing Kerala as the launching pad for this project which would turn out as a milestone in the history of the country's quest for making all sections of people digitally enabled.
"As the most literate state in India, the people of Kerala look forward to the new economic development opportunities that NOFN has opened for the state," he said.
"India is still predominantly rural. Seven out of every 10 Indians live in villages. We need to integrate our villages in our digital march that is currently being enjoyed only by those in the urban communities. We will be closely working with the central government and hope to achieve the target by March 2015 and become the first state in the country to do so," said Chandy.
NOFN, which is being funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), of the department of telecom, is envisaged as a non-discriminatory telecom infrastructure that will bridge the gap in rural telecom access.
In the first phase, it will cover 50,000 gram panchayats, with the balance 200,000 panchayats expected to be covered in a phased manner by 2016. The project is being implemented by three central PSUs - BSNL, PGCIL and Railtel in the first phase.
It is expected that the establishment of NOFN would open up new avenues for access service providers like mobile operators, cable TV operators etc. to launch next generation services, and spur creation of local employment opportunities encompassing e-commerce, IT outsourcing etc. as well as services such as e-banking, e-health and e-education for inclusive growth.