To support and enable the dream of a ‘cashless India’, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended that a limited data free internet connection should be provided to all the rural households.
The internet penetration in India is about 30%, roughly translating to 400 million people with access to the internet and a cashless economy isn’t possible until everyone has access to the web.
The internet is the sole enabler of the demonetisation move by PM Modi-led government as all the transactions, be it via net banking or mobile wallet services, is done through the internet.
“Provisioning of internet access to all sections of the population, including rural masses, is sine qua non for their digital empowerment and, in turn, for bridging the urban-rural divide,” TRAI states.
The regulatory authority also mentions that the financial aid needed for fulfilling their recommendations will be met by the USOF (Universal Service Obligation Fund), which is run by the Department of Telecommunications under the guidance of Ministry of Communication & Information Technology.
“The internet remains to be unaffordable for a vast majority of the rural population, and basic internet infrastructure continues to remain inadequate in most rural and remote areas of the country,” adds TRAI.
Highlights of the Recommendations
‘In order to bridge the affordability gap for the person residing in rural areas and to support Governments efforts towards cashless economy by incentivising digital means’ — TRAI recommends that 100MB data per month should be made available to rural subscribers for free.
USOF will be bearing the cost of implementation of the scheme.
‘To increase participation of other entities for incentivising free data, there is an urgent need to introduce third party aggregators to facilitate schemes which are TSPs agnostic and non-discriminatory in their implementation.’
Scheme for free data must be TSP-agnostic, must no involve any arrangement between the TSP and the aggregator/content provider and should to be designed to circumvent the “Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations”.
It’s yet unclear if the government would even be willing to implement such a scheme which entails a lot of funding from the Treasury.
TRAI also mentions that the inclusion of free data will create ‘greater digital inclusion’ and ‘increased spend on telecommunication services, enabling innovation in content and services.
100MB of free data for a month of usage is anyways not enough, and if a service has to be provided to enable the citizenry, the government should aim to offer more free data, instead of half-hearted attempts towards a cashless economy.