Perhaps the latest step of enhancing Government’s Digital India drive has been taken by the Indian Railways in 2018. This states that all railway stations, which sums up to almost 8,500 across the country, including the ones found even in rural and remote areas would have well-equipped Wi-Fi facilities at an estimated price of ₹700 crore i.e. almost $110 million.
As a part of Government’s most ambitious project, the national transporter has currently set up Wi-Fi services at 216 major stations, leading almost 7 million rail passengers to log on to the free internet facility.
A senior Railway Minister regarded on this context that, “Internet access has now become an important requirement in day-to-day working and we shall be providing this facility at all railway stations in the country”.
As per this plan, while 1,200 stations have been confirmed for this facility to primarily cater to rail passengers, there are about 7,300 stations which have been earmarked to not only serve passengers but also local people in rural and remote areas.
Now the Railway stations in rural areas would have kiosks with Wi-FI that would work as digital hot spots offering services like digital banking, Aadhaar generation, issuing government certificates, including birth and death certificates, and filing taxes and paying bills, among others. The kiosks would also enable the local populace to order and receive goods from e-commerce portals.
The official further added that, “These kiosks will be operated at stations with private participation for the local population. The modalities of setting up such digital hot spots are being worked out with the Telecom Ministry.”
Also, as per the timeline, while 600 stations are targeted to be provided with the Wi-FI facility by March 2018, the Railways aim to cover all 8,500.
Now, this is is quite in lieu of the news that two years after it started offering high-speed Internet access for free at select railway stations across India, Google has now started testing a paid model of the Google Station programme.
As spotted by a Reddit user, according to this Google Station programme, at various railway stations in Mumbai, it is charging ₹19 to offer high-speed internet access for 24 hours. The premium option for this includes unlimited data that can be accessed from any supported stations across the region, as perceived from the screenshot below, provided by the Redditor. However, there is also the default free option that reduces the data speed after 30 minutes of high-speed access. Like before, the free option also comes with an ad that appears on the login page.
This service was initially piloted at Mumbai Central railway station under RailTel’s RailWire initiative to offer free Wi-Fi service back in January 2016. Then, the programme had attracted a large number of passengers due to its free model. At Google for India 2017 last month, Google’s Next Billion Users (NBU) Vice President Caesar Sengupta further highlighted that over 7.5 million users have leveraged Internet access through Google Station in the country.
At present, Google Station provides Internet access at 227 stations across the country, with 22 stations going live from last month. With this, the project is also on track to hit the milestone of 400 stations which Google had hinted for the end of this year. Coupled with this is the Digital India initiative discussed above, leading India to new kind of technological advancement.