Under Hon'Ble PM's flagship program BharatNet, optical fibre has been laid in thousands of villages bridging the proverbial digital divide to a great extent. Equipments have been installed in Gram Panchayat Bhawans which can be used to access internet at broadband speeds. The country is thus on the way of achieving one major milestone on the path of all round development. Here an important question arises-How good is the quality of the Optical Fibre Network being created? And we all know where the proof of the pudding lies-the network laid should be put to use.

Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) is the Special Purpose Vehicle for the implementation of this project, while all funding is coming from the Universal service Obligation Fund (USOF). Under the Agreement that BBNL signed with USOF, the former has been entrusted with the special responsibility of taking ‘proactive measures for the roll out of broadband connections’. This is not just because ‘use’ generates revenue, but also because it gives ‘feedback’. In fact, the quality of the network laid can be known only when the services are used and feedback is received. A lot of development activities (road, buildings, water supply) is going on in villages and obviously a lot of OFC (Optical Fibre Cable) cuts/faults are being reported. But this reporting is made possible because somebody is using the network and has complained about the interruption in services. This implies that if the services are not being used, several faults in the network shall remain unreported for indefinite long periods. Here it would be an interesting study to know how many of the ‘Connected’ Gram Panchayats are actually using the BharatNet facilities.

Second phase of the project for remaining Gram Panchayats is starting soon. Full achievement of the targets is still a few months away. When we construct a house, and while construction is still on, it is easier to get small repairs, modifications done.  Once the construction is over and payments settled, we all know how inconvenient it gets to get done simplest of repairs. The same thing applies to national projects too. Things are easier when contractors are around and payments are pending!! Today, if faults are reported, carrying out maintenance work is easier but this strategic advantage shall not be available later.

In this context, the writer feels, why not we have an online version of Man ki Baat Program  to be regularly broadcasted in all those Gram Panchayats (how long would poor villagers keep tuning radios?!) where connectivity has been provided. Also Hon'ble PM may periodically address villages directly online on several issues like Swatch Bharat Abhiyan, Open Defecation etc. This would, on one hand, give a sense of 'being in touch' to marginalised villages, and on the other, would be a litmus test for the 'Quality' of the optical Network laid, i.e. whether speed is adequate or not; whether any faults are found and whether they get quickly rectified; whether maintenance is being carried out properly. In short, 'Man ki baat', can be a monitoring tool, besides being a ‘mentoring one’, of course.

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