The first stage links all the village councils in the hilly Kerala district that has a large tribal population.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy termed it a momentous day for the state and thanked the central government for choosing Kerala as the launching pad for this project which would turn out as a milestone in the history of the country's quest for making all sections of people digitally enabled. "As the most literate state in India, the people of Kerala look forward to the new economic development opportunities that NOFN has opened for the state," he said.
"India is still predominantly rural. Seven out of every 10 Indians live in villages. We need to integrate our villages in our digital march that is currently being enjoyed only by those in the urban communities. We will be closely working with the central government and hope to achieve the target by March 2015 and become the first state in the country to do so," said Chandy.
NOFN, which is being funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), of the department of telecom, is envisaged as a non-discriminatory telecom infrastructure that will bridge the gap in rural telecom access.
In the first phase, it will cover 50,000 gram panchayats, with the balance 200,000 panchayats expected to be covered in a phased manner by 2016. The project is being implemented by three central PSUs - BSNL, PGCIL and Railtel in the first phase.
It is expected that the establishment of NOFN would open up new avenues for access service providers like mobile operators, cable TV operators etc. to launch next generation services, and spur creation of local employment opportunities encompassing e-commerce, IT outsourcing etc. as well as services such as e-banking, e-health and e-education for inclusive growth.