Thomas Issac, Finance Minister for the Indian state, made the announcement during Kerala's 2017 budget report earlier this month. According to the Times of India
, the government will now ensure every household can access a reliable Internet connection. This will see families with incomes less than Rs. 20 lakh (around $30,500 USD) be given free Wi-Fi.
The state's existing fibre optic network, K-FON, will be developed to enable an expansion to new regions and homes. The work will be completed within the next 18 months at a cost equal to Rs. 1,000 crore, approximately $15m. Other customers will be able to use the network at a subsidised cost.
The project is a significant step forward for India's IT scene, a country increasingly focused on increasing its digital footprint. It's surpassing China as the world's most promising online culture and tech companies are rushing to establish retail presences in the country.
Kerala's decision to make the web free for all puts it in accordance with
the United Nations' view that everyone should be able to access the Internet. The UN suggests the Internet is one of the primary ways people can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, noting it shouldn’t be restricted as this prevent certain users from accessing online-only content.
"Internet will now become a right for the people and within 18 months the internet gateway would be set up through the K phone network at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore," Issac said
to the Economic Times of India.
Kerala is already one of the most
developed states in India and boasts a high literacy rate. Its government has been proactive in endorsing new technology, recognising the potential benefits of giving every citizen a reliable connection to the Internet. As India prepares to undergo a complete digital revolution, the K-FON expansion will enable millions of new web users to get online.
Alongside the K-FON network, Kerala's government will also be adding
Wi-Fi facilities to most public buildings and spaces. Government offices and libraries will be used as hubs for Internet connectivity, letting people stay connected when they leave their home.
Speeds and data caps haven't been announced for the new network. It's expected a combination of fair-use policies and regulation will be used. While the government wants to promote the web as a way of enabling new opportunities for citizens, it's unlikely to offer unlimited fibre connections for free.