With the Delhi Public Works Department convinced that the need for wireless internet hotspots is now obsolete with the advent of 4G, the Delhi government is considering replacing the Rs 100-crore free WiFi project in the city with Internet vouchers.
A key poll promise of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and with Lok Sabha polls scheduled next year, the government had announced that the tenders for the much-delayed free WiFi project will be awarded by September 30 and pilot hotspots will be commissioned by March 31, 2019.
With just about 10 days left for the deadline to award the tender, the government has been unable to reach a consensus on the model to follow in providing free Internet access. PWD Minister Satyendar Jain and close advisers of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have also argued that the proposal on vouchers — which Jain has turned down once — will cost more.
The PWD has now fixed a meeting between Jain and telecom companies on Saturday to build consensus as soon as possible.
Government officials said that the voucher proposal may involve people registering their mobile numbers on a website, following which a code will be issued to them. The code can be used to get reimbursements directly into their accounts. For this system, however, the service provider will have to be on the list of companies roped in by the government.
The AAP is keen to execute the project before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, so no room is left for the Opposition BJP and Congress in Delhi to target the government over an “unfulfilled promise”.
“Much has changed in the last three years. Mobile Internet is widely and easily accessible. Hotspots made sense then, not anymore. There are fears of costs. But, hotspots will be high-maintenance. There will be breakdowns, thefts,” said sources.
“Separate infrastructure will have to be built just to protect them. If the objective is to provide free Internet access, then other models should be looked at. And such a large order to any company will also ensure cheap prices.”To allay concerns that one particular private telecom company may reap profits if the voucher system is introduced, more than one firm can be roped in, sources said, adding that it can work on the reimbursement model wherein a customer will be reimbursed for a voucher if his telecom provider is part of the agreement.
“There are advantages and disadvantages. We will also have to see because installing hotspots is a time-consuming process and things may stall once the model of conduct comes into force before the polls. Bureaucrats may float many ideas, but it is the Chief Minister who will take the final call,” another official said.
The Delhi government’s advisory body — Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi (DDC) — had announced in June 2016 that the first 1,000 WiFi hotspots will come up in areas across east Delhi. But, the proposal never got off the ground with DDC gradually turning dormant.
The project was delayed as it was initially with the IT Department and when the government decided to transfer it to PWD, it faced resistance as the latter cited “non-availability of sufficient staff” at its disposal and lack of expertise in this field.