When the United Nations, in 2016, announced that access to Internet needed to be anchored in a human rights-based approach, the world was curious to know how this thought is going to be consumed among developing and underdeveloped nations. Right after one year, in 2017 when a small state in India- Kerala announced its new policy K-FON aiming to provide the optical cable infrastructure for internet connectivity all over its region highlighting its objective as “Internet access-The basic right of the Commoner” there was chaos and confusion about whether it is really the need of the hour and the poor.
But when the Covid outbreak in 2019 set the new norm as “Online” and Internet became the only way in which education and work could continue, we became well aware of the alarming digital gap in the Indian society. When India was gasping to bridge the gap through distribution of devices, connectivity still remained an issue. Since broadband connections were unaffordable, people relying on mobile internet for academic and professional requirements was a normal sight in our country. In this scenario, K-FON launched by Kerala’s left government becomes a visionary thought which upholds the idea of Self-Reliance and Free flow of Information.
Kerala government officially launched the Kerala Fiber Optical Network (KFON) on June 5th aiming to reduce the digital divide by ensuring high speed broadband internet access to all houses and Government offices. KFON will basically act as an infrastructure provider- an optical fiber cable Network of 30,000 kms with 375 Points of Presence (PoP) across Kerala and which will be shared with all service providers including cable operators. In many districts, Kerala Vision Broadband, an initiative of cable TV operators is providing the internet service. The Rs.1, 611-crore KFON project is a joint venture of Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and Kerala State IT Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL) with Bharat Electronics (BEL) as the system integrator and fully funded by Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB). In the first stage of KFON, the government plans to provide connectivity to 30,000 government offices and 14,000 BPL families in the state free of cost. With time, 20 lakh BPL families are expected to benefit from the service free of charges. As on June 5th connectivity has been provided to 17,412 government offices and 2105 houses and cable network has been laid down to give connection to 9000 houses. KFON which promises an Internet speed from 10Mbps to 10Gbps, once connected to mobile towers in Kerala will speed up the transition to 4G and 5G.
KFON: The School of Thought
More than providing connectivity to the rural and remote areas, KFON aims at empowerment of common man through Information Technology and shows an alternative model of development. Being the first government run Internet-Infrastructure in India, it allows the free flow of information and thus ensuring the general public with much more digital rights and power. The current main game players in the telecom sector being private companies, the launch of KFON enables the common man to play a role in the production of information rather than remaining in the consumer strata of Information Technology. With added advantages to education, skill development and business opportunities, the government of India’s first fully E-governed state has also begun a digital literacy campaign at the grassroots through local bodies to ensure that everyone is equipped to access basic services through the internet.