Eco Survey: Affordable rates to drive Internet adoption

KOLKATA: The reduced cost of wireless data is slated to drive affordable internet access across India even as wireless data consumption continues to surge by leaps and bounds, the Economic Survey 2020-21 said Friday.

Cost of wireless data as of June 2020, it said, stood at a paltry Rs 10.55 per GB,” which would enable affordable internet access at a rapid pace.

“The telecom sector has been recognised all over the world as a powerful tool for development and poverty reduction and efforts are being made to address the digital divide by extending inclusive internet access to every Indian citizen,” the Survey said.

Over the years, the Survey has repeatedly underlined that data rates in India are amongst the lowest in the world, having crashed from Rs 200 a GB back in June 2016.

Survey 2020-21 said wireless data usage has grown exponentially, reaching the 75.21 exa-bytes-mark during January-September 2020, adding that average wireless data consumption per subscriber per month had increased from 9.1 GB in March 2019 to 12.2 GB in June 2020.

It, though, noted that the quantum of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into the telecom sector had crashed since the Covid19 crisis, plunging to a measly $7 million during April-September 2020, from $4.28 billion in the previous corresponding period.

Overall data consumption, though, has surged amid the ongoing pandemic even as a majority of India Inc continue to work from home. Sector analysts, in fact, expect overall data usage to continue growing at 30-40% throughout FY21.

According to the Survey, the government is also relying on key national ventures such as BharatNet to achieve broadband connectivity goals under the Digital India programme.

Under the project, it said, network infrastructure is being established for broadband highways, accessible on a non-discriminatory basis to provide affordable broadband services to citizens and institutions in rural areas, in partnership with states and the private sector.

According to the Survey, as on January 15, 2021, about 4.87 lakh-kms of optical fiber cable had been laid to cover 1.63 lakh gram panchayats (GPs) and nearly 1.51 lakh GPs had become service-ready.

Internet and broadband, it said, “penetrated both in urban and rural areas” at a rapid pace. The number of internet subscribers — both broadband and narrowband collectively — stood at 776.45 million at the end of September-2020 as compared to 636.73 million in March-2019, the Survey added.

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