BharatNet: The Story of Rural India’s Digital Revolution

Digital Revolution

There is a digital revolution happening in rural India. And it has happened in the last three-and-a-half years.

Below are the brief statistics:

  • As of December 31, 2017, 2,54,895 km of Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) has been laid, covering 1,09,926 Gram Panchayats, with 1,01,370 Gram Panchayats made Service Ready
  • As of May 31, 2014, work had begun in only 4,918 Gram Panchayats, with only 358 km OFC pulled, with only 59 Gram Panchayats made Service Ready.


The detailed data can be seen in the infographic below, but the fundamental statistics provided above is as clear a picture as any as to how broadband network has been expanding in rural India. The data also leaves no doubt about what the current administration inherited and what it appears to have made of its paltry inheritance.

BharatNet Phase 1 project has been completed, connecting over one lakh gram panchayats with high-speed optical fibre network and meeting the deadline of December 31, 2017.

The successful completion of BharatNet Phase 1 within the deadline is by far the biggest visible indicator of what India has done to bridge the digital divide and push itself towards the objective of becoming a full-fledged Digital India. Incidentally, BharatNet created a worldwide record of laying of 800km of optical fibre per day.

Not only is BharatNet expected to generate direct and indirect employment opportunities across the country but this rural digital revolution will end up connecting 2.5 lakh villages with broadband network by the end of Phase II of BharatNet which targets March 2019 as its deadline.

BharatNet is not only bridging the digital divide and making rural India broadband networked but it is also expected to speed up and make efficient the digital delivery of services to the poor. This would include livelihood, health, education, skills, e-agriculture and e-commerce, etc.

Moreover, BharatNet revised its tariff to attract more Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) who can use its infrastructure and thereby provide high-speed broadband to the rural population using WiFi, Fibre to the Home (FTTH), etc. (FTTH itself is a recent arrival which provides much greater bandwidth to consumers and is growing in popularity.)

Additionally, BharatNet is also giving a big boost to Make in India. As it happens, all the telecom equipment deployed in it is wholly designed, developed and manufactured here in India. In fact, Make in India has been a key emphasis of the BharatNet project.

The facts above are staggering, and it may be recalled that certain commentators had even alleged that the laying of optical fibre in India was happening at “a snail’s pace”.

The following trends may also be noted about the data explosion in India, which only goes to show how Digital India is growing:

  • By the third quarter of 2016-17, there had already been a six-fold increase in data traffic in India from 561 million GB in the first quarter to 2,988 million GB. That was a 400% jump.
  • By the end of 2016, the number of Internet subscribers in India was already 391.50 million, making India globally the second-largest in terms of Internet users.
  • Mobile data traffic also grew by 76% in India in 2016.
  • Consumption of video content is estimated to be 75% of India’s mobile data traffic by 2021.
  • India’s telecom market is expected to cross the Rs 6.6 trillion revenue mark by 2020.

What the above trends imply and what appears to be validated by the digital revolution in rural India is that India is one of the fastest digitalising economy and society in the world.

Again, digital literacy, which has traditionally poor in India and is again a legacy issue inherited by the current administration, is an issue that the Digital India project addresses. If India’s villages are rapidly broadband networked, rural digital literacy can only rise. (To know how the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA), please read our earlier article: Think Digital India is Headed for Failure? Check the Evidence ‘Hindustan Times’.)

For now, it can be safely concluded that BharatNet is exemplary and shows what success can be reaped, and at what speed, when planning and implementation neatly complement each other.