The consumption of mobile and broadband data in rural India under the BharatNet scheme more than doubled in the three months from April to June compared to the preceding three months from January to March 2020.
Data consumption under BharatNet across the country in the April-June quarter was 5.52 lakh gigabyte (GB) as compared to 2.47 lakh GB in January-March. BharatNet is the central government project to provide high-speed broadband to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country.
Data consumption in rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, where the highest numbers of migrants and blue-collar workers returned from the big cities following the nationwide lockdown, increased between three and five times on average in the April-June period as compared to January-March, data accessed by The Indian Express show.
Overall, rural areas accounted for 83.3 per cent of the total 6.58 lakh GB data consumed under BharatNet across India during April-June.
In rural Jharkhand, mobile and broadband data consumption under BharatNet in April-June was 1,547.06 GB, more than 10 times the 146.69 GB consumed in January-March. For rural Bihar, these numbers were 17,868.11 GB and 7,635.25 GB respectively. Rural areas of UP and Uttarakhand consumed 3.1 lakh GB and 79,389.50 GB of data respectively under BharatNet between April and June.
The data also show that rural broadband consumption spiked the most during the full lockdown months of April and May. These two months accounted for 3.18 lakh GB of the quarter’s total of 5.52 lakh GB. In contrast, rural data consumption under BharatNet during February and March was 1.97 lakh GB.
“The Common Service Centres (CSCs) became easy access points for such data packs because there was no other viable alternative. The CSCs provided coupons in several denominations from Rs 5 to Rs 100, and sometimes Rs 500,” Dinesh Tyagi, CEO of CSC e-Governance Services India Ltd, told The Indian Express.
The rise in data consumption in rural areas has been accompanied by an increase in the number of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections provided by CSC and the state-owned Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL). A total 1.1 lakh FTTH connections have been given under the BharatNet scheme between April 1 and June 30, according to official data.
As of February, rural India had 51.9 crore subscribers to wireless and wireline services and a teledensity — the number of connections per 100 population — of 58.61, according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data.
Although growing, rural data consumption is a small fraction of India’s total data consumption, which was 68.2 crore GB — or 682 petabyte — in 2019. There are an estimated 22.7 crore active Internet users in rural India — 10 per cent more than in the urban areas.
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