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Kerala to provide free fibre internet to 20 lakh BPL families across state

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announces launch of KFON

The Kerala government has announced that it will provide free internet to nearly 20 lakh BPL (below poverty line) families in the state, as part of the Kerala Fibre Optic Network (KFON) launched on Monday. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said while announcing the launch that KFON will involve the laying of over 35,000 kilometre-long optical fibre network, which will be open to use for any service provider, reported ANI.

KFON is one of the first governmental plans to offer free internet to citizens directly via fibre, instead of through public WiFI networks as is being done in the Central government’s PM WANI WiFi scheme, a framework which was approved in December 2020.

What KFON will do: Vijayan announced that the launch of the scheme will provide affordable internet to every house in the state, and would revolutionise the state’s digital space. KFON will cover all 14 districts in the state. Importantly, 30,000 government institutions will get high bandwidth connectivity, which was available only to 10% of all government offices in the state.

Vijayan said that the project will leverage the existing infrastructure of the Kerala State Electricity Board, with a network operating system set up at Ernakulam. The first phase of the project, which will connect users in schools, hospitals, offices and homes, has been launched in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Palakkad, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram district, reported The NewsMinute.

Right to access internet in Kerala

It is important to note that internet access is a fundamental right in Kerala, as ruled by the Kerala High Court in September 2019. Soon after, Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Issac declared that internet has been made a basic citizen right, and announced the KFON project, with an outlay of Rs 1,548 crore. The project was to be completed by December 2020.

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Around the same time, the Union IT Ministry had declared that there were no proposals to make internet a fundamental right. This wasn’t surprising, considering how the then newly-created Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir had been experiencing a internet shutdown since August 2019; it was only this month that internet services were restored in their entirety, after over 550 days of being shutdown.

The PM WANI project — short for WiFi Access Network Interface — attempts to proliferate internet access across the country but the approach is quite different from KFON. PM WANI involves the creation of public WiFi access hotspots. The closest equivalent to KFON is the nearly-decade old BharatNet scheme, which involved the connection of gram panchayats using optical fibre. The project has seen its deadlines revised at least six times due to implementation delays. As of writing this piece, only 1,65,810 gram panchayats have been connected with fibre, according to data on the Bharat Broadband Network Limited website.

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