Better late than never. The Delhi government* says it will finally roll out its WiFi project by the end of the year, beginning with East Delhi, and 1000 hotspots in 571 locations. The Delhi government says it will shortly issue a Request for Proposal for the WiFi project, and has also decided “in principle” to provide Fibre-to-Home services for High Speed quality Internet services.

Both are great ideas, but there’s little else available about how this will be implemented. As such, apart from the indication that the WiFi roll out is being delayed by a full year (remember that the pilot launches were to begin by December 2015), the only new information we have is the fact that 1000 hotspots with three access points in 571 locations will be provided. The website of the Delhi Dialog Commission hasn’t yet been updated with any report from the elaborate process that the Delhi government has detailed in its press release.  The RFP hasn’t been floated yet, but from what I know, there was one set for release in July last year. The Delhi government says it has consulted PWC for the rollout, but the PWC report isn’t also available on Delhi government websites.

Rolling out WiFi hotspots are a tricky proposition in a vast city like Delhi, and where government property gets regularly vandalised and stolen. It’s also one thing to launch, quite another to ensure that it remains functional. NDMC had launched WiFi in Connought Place with Tata Docomo in 2014, but it barely works.

What we don’t yet know about this WiFi project:

1. How is the Delhi government going to fund the WiFi project?

There’s no indication of the outlay on WiFi or Internet given in the budget speech (pdf), the budget highlights (pdf). The Delhi government hasn’t specified a budget for Information Technology (pdf), and its annual budget for Science and Technology, of Rs 79 crore (screenshot), is probably much much less than the annual marketing spend of an ecommerce major. We also couldn’t find any information related to the WiFi project on the Department of IT website.

2. How much WiFi is being given for free?

The press release mentions setting free daily limits per user, but has no specifics, saying only, vaguely, that “”As per a TRAI report, on the basis of average consumption of internet, daily free limit per user shall be decided to satisfy the basic needs.”

3. Who will own the infrastructure and how will it work?

Will the WiFi infrastructure be public property, and be available to any operator or ISP which wants to give free WiFi, or will the onus be on the operator or entity that gets a license to roll out infrastructure and own it. If the license to provide Internet expires or gets canceled, who will own the infrastructure already laid out? Will the government operate on a Build-operate-transfer model for infrastructure roll out? What kind of coverage area will the WiFi have, and how will these areas be selected? Who will be responsible for the cost and permissions of Right of Way?

The only information we have, via news reports, is that the 1000 hotspots should be able to support 120 people at a time, and the 3000 hotspots may be added.

4. What will be the business model?

Will it be a white labeled operator in partnership with existing telecom operators and ISPs, or will one ISP or telecom operator own the customer? Will multiple operators be allowed to roll out infrastructure? Will the government control the pricing of Internet beyond the free limit? How will the payment mechanism work, in case users want to buy more access? Will Free access be supported by advertising?

5. What will be the terms of access to free content? 

Will it be open Internet access or will certain access to content be disallowed? Beyond the free limit, with certain websites and content still be available for free?

Also read: How the AAP Government should approach free WiFi in Delhi

The Delhi government press release

DIRECTORATE OF INFORMATION & PUBLICITY

GOVERNMENT OF NCT OF DELHI

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Delhi government announces its free internet services project for the people of Delhi

· The Wi-Fi project will begin from East Delhi by year-end

· 1,000 hot spots to begin with at 571 locations

New Delhi: 24/06/2016

The Delhi Government intends to bridge the digital divide by providing free internet services to the citizens of Delhi to fulfill minimum internet requirements of a common man. The announcement was made by the Dialogue and Development Commission vice-chairman Mr Ashish Khetan on Friday.

Salient features of the Delhi government policy are as follows :

The job towards implementation of Wi-Fi in Delhi has been allocated to Department of Information Technology (DIT), Delhi government.

1. It was decided to start the project in East Delhi area first.
2. As per a TRAI report, on the basis of average consumption of internet, daily free limit per user shall be decided to satisfy the basic needs.
3. 1,000 hot spot zones with three access points within 571 identified locations of east Delhi area to be taken initially. The target is to have functional hot spots by the end of this year (2016)
4. Shortly a RFP will be floated.

The preparation for Wi-Fi project included :

1. A three days Stakeholder Consultation Meeting was organized by DIT, GNCTD on 23rd, 24th and 27thApril 2015 for exchange of knowledge, identification of challenges, best practices and to discuss and finalize the implementation approach.

2. The meeting was planned to ensure active involvement of various stakeholders from industry, society, technical community and various departments and agencies of the government to ensure that the objectives of the project are met out in the best possible manner, the challenges are anticipated and managed in a structured way.

3. An expert committee was also constituted comprising of officers from below mentioned organizations:-
a. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
b. Department of Electronics & Information Technology, GoI
c. Department of Telecommunications, GoI
d. Finance Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi
e. National Informatics Centre
f. Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

4. The expert panel, special invitees and other stakeholder deliberated upon: –
a. Free Wi-Fi Definition:
b. Business Model:
c. Right of Way:
d. Advertising:
e. Premium Services Charges
f. Usage of existing services and then offloading of the services
g. Defining hotspot
h. Identification of hotspot locations
i. Criteria for hotspot zones

5. Department of Information Technology also actively consulted Delhi Dialogue Commission in preparation of RFP.

6. M/s PWC Consultancy services was also engaged for specific aspects of implementing of Wi-Fi in Delhi.

7. It was again reviewed at the level by officers of Department of Information Technology and experts from Delhi Dialogue Commission in the light of observations/comments/opinions/recommendations/advices from following to finalize RFP:
a. Stakeholder Consultation meet
b. Report of World WiFi forum
c. Expert Panel
d. Comments of Special Invitees.
e. Report of Consultant PwC on specific point

Opinion of different experts is taken on business model, size of projects, financial model, technology suitability, availability of fiber for backhaul in different areas, coverage parameters, SLAs etc. Delhi government has also decided in principle to provide fibre-to-home services. This is aimed at providing high-speed and quality internet services to the residents of the national capital.

Department of Information Technology will be the nodal agency for this ambitious project.

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Disclosure: I was a special invitee to the Delhi WiFi project until I left in July last year.