The Centre is looking to immediately get down to business with its plans to set up five lakh WiFi hotspots in the rural areas of the country. The plan is to help villagers gain access to broadband internet, thus helping them benefit from the government’s various welfare schemes, directly. And the Northeast is where the action is going to be.
Talking exclusively to YourStory, Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Alphons Kannanthanam, said the government was determined to digitise the rural economy.
“We will start concentrating on northeast for the moment. There is a lot of work that needs to be done there,” Kannanthanam said. “The digital rollout will see a lot of push in that region.”
In his budget speech on Thursday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said that under phase I of the Bharatnet project, one lakh gram panchayats have been connected through the high-speed optical fibre network.
“This has enabled broadband access to over 20 crore rural people in 2.5 lakh villages,” Jaitley said. The Centre has provided for Rs 10,000 crore in 2018-19 to improve the telecom infrastructure in the country.
Minister Kannanthanam told YourStory that the government wants technology to play a huge role in uplifting the rural poor. “One can already see how Aadhar is playing a role in the benefits reaching the people more efficiently,” he said.
He added the NITI Ayog will start to put together a national programme aimed at leveraging Artificial Intelligence. “The Narendra Modi government is keen to drive artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) as tools to accelerate development,” he said. He, however, didn’t go into details.
Arun Jaitley, in his budget speech, had said that to benefit from emerging technologies, the Department of Telecom (DoT) will help set up 5G centres along with IIT Madras. The finance minister has allotted Rs 3,073 crore to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) develop machine learning (ML), AI and IoT. Kannanthanam said it was important to leverage such technology at an early stage to help citizens wherever possible.
While the focus has been on the rural economy, the startup industry has been left in the lurch. The budget completely left out angel tax in any of its announcements, much to the disappointment of the startups, which often receive a boost from the angel investor community.
Kannanthanam didn’t want to get drawn into this discussion at this stage. “I need to study this (angel tax) a little more before I comment,” he said.