DMPQ-The PM-WANI scheme has potential to end India’s Digital divide.” Discuss.

. PM WANI (Wi-Fi Access Network Interface) is a scheme meant to increase Wi-fi access throughout the country. The WANI framework contains the following components:

  • Public Data Office (PDO): It will establish, maintain, and operate only WANI compliant Wi-Fi Access Points and deliver broadband services to subscribers.
  • Public Data Office Aggregator (PDOA): It will be an aggregator of PDOs and perform the functions relating to Authorization and Accounting.
  • App Provider: It will develop an App to register users and discover WANI compliant Wi-Fi hotspots in the nearby area and display the same within the App for accessing the internet service.
  • Central Registry: It will maintain the details of App Providers, PDOAs, and PDOs. To begin with, the Central Registry will be maintained by C-DoT.

As of June 2020, the number of internet subscribers increased to 749.07 million, a 0.79% increase over the previous quarter, and a 4.2% increase over December 2019. The number of urban and rural subscribers increased to 455.98 million and 293.09 million respectively.

While internet penetration in the country is rising, a persistent digital divide still remains due to factors such as gender gaps and the rural-urban divide. The number of rural subscribers, despite making up a significant majority of the population, is only 64% of the number of urban subscribers, with rural internet density only about a third of urban internet density. Meanwhile, NFHS data suggests that in eight states and two union territories less than 40 percent women have used the internet.

The scheme has generally been applauded. Many commenters have praised the scheme and said that it will greatly increase internet connectivity across the country. Industry bodies have said that such a move will provide a massive stimulus to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.  At the same time, several issues have been raised. Foremost among them is the question of security: public Wi-Fis are known to be susceptible to attacks and breaches, while there is a lack of specificity with regards to data protection norms. The economic viability of such a project has also been questioned, given the lack of success of similar models hitherto. Lastly, while a step towards viewing internet access as a ‘positive right’, questions have also been raised about whether the scheme may amount to a dereliction of duty from the state.

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