Representational Image | Photo: Mathrubhumi
Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala, which has declared the internet a basic right, is all set to launch K-FON, a government-owned internet service provider that will offer free broadband services to the poor and affordable internet connectivity to all others in the state.
Talking to PTI ahead of the much-awaited launch of the project on June 5, K-FON MD and former IAS officer Santhosh Babu said the government aims to provide free broadband services to 20 lakh economically backward families in Kerala. K-Fon will complement the existing telecom ecosystem in the state.
As part of the initial phase, the Local Self Government Department has selected 14,000 households from the 140 Assembly constituencies in the state, to whom free internet services will be provided.
Kerala Fibre Optic Network (K-FON), an initiative of the Left government in Kerala, is expected to bridge the digital divide and empower marginalised sections of society. The government aims at ushering in a digital revolution, bringing about transformative changes and opening up new avenues for social and economic development through K-FON, Babu said.
Speaking about the project, Babu said the free internet service connection has already been given to over 17,280 government offices across Kerala, while the state secretariat and 10 district collectorates are already functioning using K-FON.
As part of the initial phase, K-FON plans to give internet connections to an estimated 30,000 government offices in the state and free broadband connections to 14,000 economically backward households in Kerala, Babu said.
He added that K-FON, a public-funded project under the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), "does not plan to initiate a price war" with other service providers.
"The project is a parent infrastructure," Babu explained, saying the K-FON internet highway would turn Kerala into a 'smart' state, as the "aim is to develop e-governance and predictive governance, among other things, to bring governance to the fingertips of the people."
The implementation of the project, with an estimated cost of over Rs 1,500 crore, is funded by the government and KIIFB but the operations and management will have to be dealt with by K-FON itself, he added.
"After giving free services to economically-backward households, which come to around 20 lakh families, and connections to nearly 30,000 government offices, we aim to provide commercial connections to the rest of the households, other institutions such as ration shops, SupplyCo outlets, Kerala Bank, etc and monetise them," Babu said.
He said K-FON is the biggest internet service provider in Kerala with around 30,000 km of fibre which was laid in association with the Kerala State Electricity Board Limited.
"We do not intend to start a price war. We want to be a complementary ecosystem to the existing telecom ecosystem. The rates will be affordable and cost-effective," Babu said.
There are around 14,000 ration shops, over 2,000 SupplyCo outlets, and other state-run institutions like Kerala Bank, which the K-FON company considers as revenue-generating offices where connections will be given on a commercial basis.
"In order to monetise the network, we plan to lease out the dark fibre, provide commercial connections to the government offices, lease internet lines to other service providers, and set up OTT or IPTV platforms," he said.
He added that in a state with around four crore people and nearly 75 lakh households, only around 20 lakh families have fibre connections.
"The government wants internet connectivity in all these 75 lakh families. There is a huge market that is wide open. After providing free internet connection to the economically backward families, which is also around 20 lakh, we can provide internet connection in a commercial manner to the rest of the households in a cost-effective manner," the K-FON MD said.
Currently, K-FON infrastructure has reached around 9,000 houses, out of which 1,200 are live connections, he added. The government expects to give connections to 14,000 households by the end of June.
The official said the delay in activating the connection in the rest of the households is because the applicant have not completed the 'know your customer' (KYC) process.
"Since we come under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Department of Telecommunication (DoT), we need to check the credentials before giving a user ID and a password," he elaborated.
Babu mentioned that the members of economically backward households leave early for their daily wage labour and the K-FON team finds it difficult to get their credentials, including their Aadhaar.
Some of them might have misplaced their Aadhaar, some may not have linked it with their mobile numbers, and in some cases, our team may not be able to meet the family as they might be out on their jobs during the day time, he added.
Currently, the Kerala State Wide Area Network (KSWAN) is the main network infrastructure for e-governance in the state. However, the existing connectivity through KSWAN is limited to about 3,800 government offices for the delivery of e-Gov services.
Through a venture of equal partnership between Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Ltd (KSITIL) and Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), 30,000 km of fibre optic cable is being laid, connecting all parts of the state, he added.
As per a statement issued by K-FON, a consortium led by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) was selected from the three qualified bidders after following due tender process.
KSITIL executed the agreement with BEL on March 9, 2019, and the consortium consists of BEL, the lead bidder, RailTel, SRIT and LS Cable, it said.
A public sector undertaking (PSU), BEL is responsible for planning, procurement, execution, operation, monitoring and control, while RailTel, another PSU, is responsible for supply, installation, testing, commissioning, operation and maintenance of all IT components.
SRIT is responsible for ADSS cable laying, non-IT works, NOC services and implementation while LS Cable is responsible for supply, installation, testing, commissioning, operation and maintenance of OPGW cable.
"SRIT has been maintaining the Network Operations Centre for RailTel. M/s LS Cable is the one of the leaders in Optical Ground Wire (OPGW) (core network of the KFON runs on OPGW) market across the globe," the statement said.
The launch event will be held in Thiruvananthapuram and will be live telecasted in all 140 constituencies. PTI