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Preparing for the Future: Unleashing the potential of Digital Inclusion

10% increase in broadband penetration will lead to 1.38% increase in GDP growth for low/middle income countries
  
Digital inclusion has been the priority of the Government of India, with various efforts taken through the ambitious Digital India programme, including BharatNet Digi Locker, eSign Framework, National Scholarship Portal e-Hospital, and more.
 
The National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) is an important component of Digital India. A fully operational NOFN has the potential of bringing significant changes to the lives of rural citizens. National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), an ambitious initiative to trigger broadband revolution in rural India, is creating a robust middle network infrastructure layer to connect gram panchayats of the country through broadband connectivity.
 
NOFN has been planned with an investment of ₹21,000 crore to connect 2,50,000-gram panchayats with a speed of 100 Mbps. It was established to enable key services like e-governance, education, health, banking and agriculture in rural regions of the country.
 
There are several challenges in the deployment of NOFN, including a lack of accountability and delays in decision-making because of an emphasis on cost controls, resulting in poor implementation. There have been delays and increases in expenditure, unavailability of affordable devices, lack of available content, and limited affordability.
 
The progress in the NOFN has been slow in Andhra Pradesh connecting just 601 GPs out of 12918 GPs in the state. Ritu Srivastava & Eshita Mukherjee of Digital Empowerment Foundation examine two options to build on India’s digital inclusivity. The first of these is connecting the last sections of unconnected households via NOFN.
 
The cost is ₹10,179 crores, which includes: 1) cost of connecting the remaining GPs and ongoing maintenance; 2) cost to connect remaining households and ongoing maintenance; 3) upgrading the data centre cost to connect institutions (such as public health centre (PHC), schools, government agencies, etc) and 4) costs of accessing broadband services.

 
Broadband connectivity in AP
 
It is estimated that broadband penetration in rural Andhra Pradesh will increase to 38 per 100 rural households by 2067. Due to the falling share of rural population in the state, this will contribute to a statewide increase in penetration of 23 per 100 households.
 
The World Bank estimates that 10 percent increase in broadband penetration will lead to 1.38 percent increase in GDP growth on average for low/middle-income countries. It is estimated that there would be annual boosts to GSDP arising from the pathway of fixed broadband growth across the entire state attributable to the NOFN.
 
After three years the boost to GSDP is 0.02%. By 2035 the boost is 0.1%, by 2050 the boost is 0.2%, and by 2067 it is 0.3%. Total benefits until 2067 equal 69,707 crores at a 5% discount rate.
 
The second option focuses on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). MGNREGA promises to provide 100 days of wage employment to at least one member of the estimated 150 million rural households across India. However, there have been various implementation and service delivery issues since its inception.
 
The intervention proposes transition from cash payment of MGNREGA wages to payment to the beneficiaries’ bank/post office account linked to Aadhaar. Although 99 percent of the ac-tive MGNREGA beneficiaries have Aadhaar numbers only 82 percent receive their payments in their respective bank accounts.
 
This intervention targets the last one percent of the population who are not linked to Aadhaar and those who are linked to Aadhaar but not linked to DBT.
 
The total cost of the intervention is ₹47 crores over a period of 15 years. Cutting down leakages is the key benefit of Aadhaar. The study estimates gain from reduction in two types of leakages a) leakages due to duplicity in the system b) leakages due to deception. The gain from reduced leakages for total active MGNREGA workers to be provided DBT (19%) is ₹57 crores.

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