Now, Kerala aims for internet in every household

Only a clutch of countries like Finland, Estonia, France, Spain, Greece and Costa Rica have declared the internet as a basic human right (Hemant Mishra/Mint file)

Bengaluru: After 100% literacy, Kerala now aims for another milestone—internet for every household and free internet for every poor household.

The state cabinet approved the scheme, one of the flagship projects of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala, late on Wednesday. This is in line with a promise made in the first full budget of the government, as well as the LDF’s election manifesto, to make internet access a “citizen’s right” and provide free internet to 2 million poor households in the state.

“Internet connection made a basic citizen right. Kerala cabinet gives final nod for 1548 crores Kerala Fibre Optic Network (KFON) Project to provide Internet to every household in the state. For 20 lakh BPL (below poverty line) households it will be free. The project to be completed by Dec 2020,” Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac tweeted on Thursday.

KFON is a joint venture of the state’s power utility, Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), and the public sector information technology (IT) arm, Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd, according to a statement released by the government after the cabinet meeting. The plan is to establish a new optic fibre network, and Wi-Fi transmission centres across the state, according to the statement.

For last-mile connectivity, the fibre network will use the electricity network of KSEB, which has wide-ranging presence and the existing cable television networks, which has a presence in 95% households in Kerala, according to KFON estimates. KFON will then collaborate with internet service providers to relay internet over the fibre network.

The pilot phase of the project, between the state-run IT hub ‘Technopark’ and a KFON centre in Thiruvananthapuram district, will begin in some weeks, said the government. The optical fibre cables for the project were recently imported from the US and a Chennai facility has started quality testing and colour coding.

The state expects this high-speed connectivity to reach, apart from households, 30,000 public institutions, including offices, schools, IT parks, airports and ports. It will also be a booster for e-governance, said the government, which aims to lease out the fibre network for telecom and cable television operators and offset some of the huge costs.

Only a few countries such as Finland, Estonia, France, Spain, Greece, and Costa Rica have declared the internet as a basic human right.

Among Indian states, Tamil Nadu and Telangana had offered to provide free or low-cost internet to households for a while but such initiatives remain a non-starter.

Free internet is one of the several large public spending and welfare-oriented programmes announced by the LDF government, risking the already stressed financials of the state. At 3.4% fiscal deficit of the gross domestic product, Kerala has already overshot the deficit constraint of 3% stipulated by the Centre’s Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act.