Launched by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 1, 2015 in Delhi, Digital India is India’s ambitious drive to improve national Internet connectivity and web infrastructure. Besides strengthening current Internet infrastructure, the program will also ensure online connectivity for rural areas.

Seamless mobile connectivity, public Internet access, e-governance, job creation, attracting FDI, and digitally merging the length and breadth of the country are the campaign’s long-term goals. The program is likely to cost 1,130,000 million rupees. Simply put, Digital India’s vision is to make the Internet a mass commodity.

Salient Features and Benefits

  • As per the project, 250,000 villages and 150,000 post offices will have high-speed Internet connectivity by March 2017 and 2019 respectively. All Indian villages will enjoy mobile connectivity by 2018.
  • E-governance entails digital delivery of government-issued identity cards, education certificates, etc. Wi-Fi facilities in all universities, with email being the primary mode of communication.
  • Setting up of BPOs and other outsourcing firms in north-eastern states.
  • E-hospital that enables online medical services such as fee payment, online registration, finding blood availability details, diagnostics, etc.
  • Digital services/resources will be available in all Indian languages, ensuring digital literacy among all.
  • By 2020 the Indian government aspires to have 10 million students from villages and town work-ready for the IT sector.
  • The website will facilitate seamless interaction between government and citizens. The platform can be used to register grievances, suggestions, comments, etc.
  • Other features include public Wi-Fi hotspots, e-health, e-education, e-banking, public cloud (a shared cloud computing service), digital lockers such as DigiLocker (secured digital storage for documents such as PAN card and passports), mobile app for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, etc.

And existing e-governance initiatives will be reconstructed to comply with Digital India standards.

The Role of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Other Tech Firms

Google: To help spread the Digital India vision, Google will offer its Android operating system in 11 different Indian languages. It will provide high-speed Internet connectivity in approximately 500 railway stations. The firm is also working with the Indian central government and many state governments to promote Internet safety and digital literacy, especially amongst women.

Microsoft: The software giant has been working on its own technology projects for more than two decades, most of them closely aligning with the Digital India campaign. Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, said his company will also provide assistance to build broadband Internet infrastructure for 500,000 Indian villages, in conjunction with national and state governments, local ISPs and telecommunication firms. Microsoft would also bring its cloud services to help drive the digital ambition.

Facebook: Facebook has agreed to participate in the National Optical Fibre Network initiative that aims to connect 250,000 village panchayats through reliable and efficient broadband connectivity by 2017.

Intel: Via the initiative Digital Skills for India, Intel aims to bestow digital literacy skills upon 5 million people by 2015. This initiative is in congruence with the company’s already established Intel Teach program, which has trained more than 1.8 million Indian teachers.

Qualcomm: Qualcomm, the smartphone chipmaker, will invest $150 million in Indian startups. The firm also wants to encourage local product designs via its Design in India program. A Bangalore-based Qualcomm Innovation Lab will be up to offer engineering and technical assistance to Indian firms.

Criticism and Concerns

The Indian government is seeking foreign support to realize the project. But experts believe necessary sources are locally available. Indian entrepreneurs could be brought onboard for development. Participation of companies such as Facebook that have been criticized for restricting Internet freedom contradicts Digital India’s vision, which is to open up the Internet.

Privacy can be an issue with the digitally collected heaps of personal data. Some skeptics also believe the ‘digital drive’ could be the government’s veiled effort to access and supervise private communications. And the fact that Mr. Modi is a Hindu nationalist, one must wait and watch how he’ll manage to democratize governance and information flow digitally.