The biggest challenge faced by the Digital India programme is the slow/delayed infrastructure development. Spectrum availability in Indian metros is about a tenth of the same in cities in developed countries. This has put a major roadblock in providing high speed data services.

There are currently over 31,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots installed in India. However, based on a study ‘Digital India: Unlocking the Trillion Dollar opportunity,’ jointly conducted by ASSOCHAM and research firm Deloitte, for India to match the current global average of one public Wi-Fi hotspot per 150 people, an additional 80 lakh hotspots need to be deployed.

For Digital India to have a large scale impact on citizens across the nation, the digital divide needs to be addressed through last mile connectivity in remote rural areas. Currently, over 55,000 villages remain deprived of mobile connectivity. This is largely due to the fact that providing mobile connectivity in such locations is not commercially viable for service providers, based on the joint study.

Implementation of the Digital India program has been hampered by contracting challenges such as several projects assigned to PSUs are delayed, given challenges related to skills, experience and technical capabilities. Several RFPs issued by the government are not picked up by competent private sector organisations since they are not commercially feasible.

The reports suggest that, as recently as 2014, nearly 70% of Indian consumers indicated that lack of awareness was the main reason for not using internet services. Non-availability of digital services in local languages is also a major concern, noted the study.

Development of digital infrastructure is a critical component of Digital India. To further enable this, measures should be considered as uniform policies for deploying telecom and optic fibre infrastructure.

A uniform RoW policy across all states with a reasonable cost structure is required along with a single window mechanism for granting RoW permissions. In addition, the government should make efforts to make additional spectrum available to telecom service providers for deployment of high speed data networks.

Effective collaboration with the private sector is also critical to the development of the digital infrastructure. Moreover, startups need to be incentivised for the development of the last mile infrastructure, and localised services and applications.

Existing government infrastructure assets (e.g., post offices, government buildings, CSCs) should be further leveraged for provision of digital services. Satellite communication solutions could be used to speed up broadband access in rural and remote areas.