What’s the big deal about free Wifi in Delhi?

I posted this on my travel blog a week before and am re posting it here with some updates.

This blog post may seem an aberration from my usual writings about travel and birds, but I believe governance (or if you would prefer the term: country management) is just like design, and the design of governance too needs design thinking skills, doses of imagination and critical thought.

Not very long ago; five of us; Me, Myriam, Shashi, Mia, Eiman and another teammate of ours from Nepal; collaborated on an assignment to create the city budgeting for a hypothetical city of 2,50,000 inhabitants. (This was part of Think Tank “City of the 21st century” course offered by Leuphana University and it had participants from over 80 countries and was conducted by Daniel Libeskind, the eminent architect of the new building that has now replaced the World Trade Centre towers.)

While creating the revenue vs expenditure analysis, wifi enablement was something which seemed natural to anyone who spends hours with some or the other device. (we were five people connected purely over internet, doing this assignment over three different country time zones) While Toronto, our base city for an economic model didn’t seem to have a wifi component, we looked at LA and other places where WIFI has been experimented with. It was presumed to cost $5 billion according to LA city council’s estimates in 2013. In 2014, Wifi of LA Schools along with 1 ipad per student, is estimated to cost $1.3 billion alone.

High speed internet also seems to require fibre optic cables and we know how much pain we have suffered every time the service providers dig up stretches of roads, temporarily immobilizing traffic while the “development” work is underway. In another similar course; a team of three; Michael, Sangeeta and I, sought to look at possible innovation suggestions for a drone company. Michael, an engineer, suggested amongst other uses, a high altitude cellphone tower. Could this be an interesting solution for providing a UAV for telecom and internet? I don’t know if it’s possible, but sometimes one needs to think out of the box rather than the usual its-has-always-been-done-this-way mindset.

Delhi, however is no LA. The income disparity and density of population is much greater. Delhi population has shot up to 25 million inhabitants and is the second most populous city in the world, just after Tokyo. Interestingly, while most of the world was going through recession and slowly charting its economic growth pattern back to green from red, Delhi has an enviable nominal GDP of around 40000 crores growing @ above 15% per annum in the past five years! If one would equate the richest man in the world as a method of comparison, that would mean equivalent to 4 trillion (4045760000000 actually) or US$ 67 Billion (assuming 1USD= Rs. 60), roughly equal to the wealth of one Bill Gates in a year! That is the amount Delhi generated last year. According to these calculations, a onetime $5 billion investment for wifi would be less than 10% of a yearly GDP.

But, do we need the expense? This is not a decision that should be taken unilaterally by citizens of a city state, nor should it be taken arbitrarily by a governing body. In most well managed cities around the world, this is work of the city council or the Mayor. A layperson in Delhi however, wouldn’t even know the figure head name of the said entities. We need some really good urban planners to answer that question. And a team of exceptional think tank to design the strategy for urban growth. If the economics are done right; wifi, water, power; should be no big deal as far as the policy is people centric.

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Updates:

A) According to a Television analyst, most of the city’s budget is fixed cost, with majority expense as salaries and only 10% is freed up! That’s looks like incredible shortsightedness in previous planning! If this is true, the component of fixed components would be need to be reworked to make this a “green field” budget.

B) New announcements that:

As per this news report, the Free WiFi will be subject to following conditions:

  • 1. WiFi only in Public places
  • 2. WiFi will be free for the first 30 minutes after which it is chargeable
  • 3. WiFi cannot be used for “Private uses” such as Email, Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp

After the investment in the infrastructure, data usage depends largely on energy. It needs something to run on. Alternative solutions if developed can make this model workable.Some bright mind in our vast country would be surely able to take the challenge.


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