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Digitizing Odisha still distant dream due to poor mobile coverage




 Even as there are talks of digitizing the country, as on date there are 11,200 villages in Odisha do not have any mobile coverage.

The latest report on mobile connectivity reveals that 11,200 villages out of 51,313 villages in the State do not have cellphone coverage. Though the Union government plans to provide mobile connectivity to all villages by March, 2019, it looks like an uphill task. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had in 2014 undertaken a study to identify villages with no mobile connectivity. It was based on the 2011 Census.  Based on the study, DoT identified around 55,660 villages in the country and Odisha had the highest number of 10,398 villages not covered by mobile connectivity. However the recent State government report says that 11,200 villages are not covered by mobile coverage.

 As per Union government data, the highest number of uncovered villages, are in Odisha, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.  The Central plan was to cover them by March 2019. However, over 5,000 villages in the country have been provided with mobile network so far. In fact Odisha has been termed as a “Connectivity Deficit State” with urban tele-density of about 83 percent and rural tele-density is about 50 percent. This is one of the poorest connectivity zones in the country, admit officials.

Similarly availability of High Speed Broadband coverage in all Gram Panchayats seriously lag in comparison to the other states. Even after mobile towers have been set up in Left Wing Extremist (LWE) affected areas, the bandwidth is very low due to technical reasons. In these areas, poor connectivity is posing serious problem for the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) for taking up operations, admit officials. Bharat Net Program is being implemented to connect Gram Panchayats, however its progress has been poor. Only 44 Gram Panchayats have been connected through Bharat Net Phase One out of the target of 3,860. Bharat Net Projects is not progressing at the desired speed, pointed out a senior official. More than 70 percent Gram Panchayats are not covered by any bank branches. 

The task of setting up of Brick and Mortar Bank branches is moving at a snails’ pace as during last three years only 221 bank branches have been opened and 4,376 Gram Panchayats are yet to be covered. Due to poor connectivity banks are not able to transact business and customers are left harassed. The goal of Digital Payment would not be realised unless connectivity improves in the State. A senior official said the various schemes are being implemented with financial support from the Universal Service Obligation Fund for provision of telecom services in commercially unviable rural and remote area. These projects take time, as the terrain is very difficult. “One has to understand it is a very difficult task. Covering these villages will require huge investment and high execution capacity. They will be covered in a phased manner, but it is almost certain that even by the end of 2019, all the unconnected villages will not be covered under mobile network,” the officials admit.






Editorial

Précis 2017
From asking his party men to ‘live a simple life and serve the people’ to taunting the BJP for its ‘crocodile tears’, Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik has not only become politically invincible, he seems to be so in the coming years too.

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