The first phase of the Kerala Fibre Optic Network (KFON) project, aimed at providing free internet connections to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families in the state, was launched on Monday by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
"I am happy to inform you that KFON has become a reality," Vijayan said after inaugurating the project online.
The first phase of the project, which will also help connect users in schools, hospitals, offices and houses, was launched in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Palakkad, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts.
Vijayan said the project was a "revolutionary step" to end the digital divide in the state and lift it to the height of development by linking all houses and offices with optical fibre network. The K-FON project was launched to provide quality internet free of cost to the poor and at affordable rates to others, he said.
In Kerala, which became the first state that declared access to internet as a basic human right, private sector Vodafone-Idea is a leading service provider with 51.9% market share, Reliance Jio has 22.6% market share, while public sector BSNL’s share is 12.6%.
Incidentally, Jio Fiber, a broadband service from Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio group, plans to expand its network across the country, including in Kerala. KFON, therefore, poses a challenge to these private broadband service providers.
About 20 lakh people will get very fast and free Internet connection through this project. "With the implementation of this project, the state government is laying a strong foundation to help Kerala grow as a knowledge economy and IT hub," the Chief Minister said.
The state government had announced in May 2020 that the project would be launched to provide free internet access to the poor.
The KFON project is a mega infrastructure project that aims to build a high-speed, reliable and scalable fibre network across the state to provide connectivity to 30,000 government institutions and 20 lakh households through the transmission and distribution facility of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).
Both the KSEB and the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL) have 50% shares each in KFON. The 52,746 km-long fibre optic cables are being laid using the poles of KSEB.
According to the CM, “With the implementation of this project, the state government is laying a strong foundation to help Kerala grow as a knowledge economy and IT hub.”
Earlier in January this year, the Budget presented by Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac envisaged creation of a knowledge society. To attain this, the presence of a robust digital infrastructure is a must pre-condition.
As the next step in making digital capabilities universal, Dr. Isaac proposed to expand the laptop distribution programme. Laptops will be distributed at half the cost to children hailing from fisherfolk, scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities, and Antyodaya households. Other Below Poverty Live (BPL) families will get a 25% subsidy. The cost will be borne jointly by the departments and local bodies concerned.
Along with the internet access, laptops will also be made available through Kudumbashree’s Kerala State Financial Enterprises Micro Chit Fund.
"Digital capabilities should be made available to everyone. The digital divide should be eliminated. Innovations should be interwoven into all avenues, leveraging the rich experiences of people from all sectors, including agriculture. In such a society, knowledge will be recreated perpetually," said Isaac during his budget speech.
Earlier, just the before the local body polls in the state in November 2020, when the central investigative agencies were probing the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case, there were efforts to link it with the development projects of the state government including KFON, Life mission etc.
But at that point, sources close to the matter did not rule out a “conspiracy” by private service providers, since it is the state government that has promised to provide internet facility via KFON at an affordable price to every citizen in Kerala, leaving private service providers unhappy.
Meanwhile, the state government was determined to implement the project, which was launched in November 2019 and is one of the major promises made by the Left Democratic Front in the run-up to the Assembly elections in 2016.
(With Inputs from PTI)