As one of the world’s largest rural connectivity endeavours, the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project has been the subject of immense policy interest for the potential it holds to deliver high speed broadband internet to rural India. The building of infrastructure on a scale of this kind was acknowledged as an audacious move owing to the nature of transformation that this could herald in the way rural India could ride the digital information highway. The project, however, has been subject to numerous delays and deadline extensions for its completion are now a matter of routine. The pilot projects for NOFN were rolled out in the year 2012 in three States—Tripura, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh—and they received functional internet connectivity from 2013 onwards.
This study visits the three pilot project sites to find out how the NOFN infrastructure is faring three years after it was first rolled out to 58 gram panchayats (village local bodies) in India. Adopting a qualitative lens, the study locates the infrastructure in the geographical, social, and work practice context of the sites where it is supposed to be delivering seamless, reliable, and high speed internet connectivity through fibre optic cables.
This Policy Report details the ways in which the NOFN infrastructure draws attention to itself and becomes highly visible not due to its functioning, but due to its frequent breakdowns and the many disruptions that follow.
The Report recommends that attention to regular maintenance and repair, in terms of budgetary provisions that include salary for dedicated personnel, be incorporated as an integral part of the way the NOFN infrastructure is rolled out and built. Without this, the infrastructure loses its functionality and its ‘completed’ status is rendered meaningless.