In 2014, the Karnataka government introduced the first free Wi-Fi hotspot in Bengaluru’s MG Road. However, the disuse and slow speed rendered the project useless. Now, the government is planning to set up free Wi-Fi spots at public places in all 198 wards in the city.
On Sunday, Deputy Chief Minister and Bengaluru Development Minister Dr G Parameshwara announced that all 198 wards in Bengaluru would get free Wi-Fi within the next six months. The first free Wi-Fi hotspot was inaugurated in Govindarajnagar on Sunday after local corporator Umesh Shetty along with Jio took up the initiative. The Wi-Fi is currently available at a 3km radius from the ward office.
According to Umesh Shetty, the Wi-Fi will work at a speed of 100 mbps upto 1 GB download limit. So far Rs 3 crore has been spent to implement the programme.
“We have introduced this as a pilot project. If it is successful, then it will be implemented in other wards too. In the next six months, all 198 wards will get free Wi-Fi,” DCM Parameshwara said.
Ever since the free Wi-Fi project on MG Road failed miserably, the IT and BT Department in association with Bengaluru’s civic body – Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) decided to roll out free Wi-Fi spots in public places. The plan was conceptualized in 2016 and has not yet been implemented.
Many residents feel it is an eyewash like the scheme implemented on MG Road. “You can use it for free only for the first 30 minutes. After that we had to pay money to use it. Why would anyone want to pay for slow internet when we already have high speed 4G data?” said Vipu, a resident of Richmond Town.
This, however, turns out to be true. The government is planning to introduce a paywall if a person is using the internet for more than 30 minutes. “They will have to pay commercial tax fixed by TRAI to use the internet after 30 minutes.
In Govindrajnagar, those using the Wi-Fi can connect to the network by using their phone number as the password. “The major problem we have faced so far is the rentals for different types of telecom infrastructure and which would be the ideal one. The BBMP is also delaying fixing rentals for access points. No matter how many times reminders have been sent, BBMP is not taking the task seriously,” an official with the IT and BT Department said.
The 2018-19 budget promised free Wi-Fi with the assistance from the Karnataka government on major roads, BBMP offices and bus stands, in coordination with the IT and BT Department. While the IT and BT Department is aiming at providing free Wi-Fi for the first 30 mins in 2500 spots in the city, the BBMP is focusing on 400 spots.
In 2016, after finally accepting that the MG Road project was a humungous flop show, the free Wi-FI project was taken up by the IT and BT Department. The first deadline was set in 2017. However, as the year came to an end, there were no free-for-30-minutes Wi-Fi spots in the city.
In December 2017, Priyank Kharge, the then IT and BT Minister had announced that the free Wi-Fi hotspots would be inaugurated on January 26, 2018.
As expected, there were no free Wi-Fi hotspots yet and the government announced that the project would be completed before the Assembly Elections.
Once the model code of conduct came into place, the project was benched and surfaced once more during the 2018-19 budget. Now, the BBMP’s laxity has seeped into this project as well. “Initially four companies — Indus Towers, Honeycomb, D-VoiS Communications and ACT Fibernet — had expressed interest to provide public Wi-Fi hotspots. Indus Towers has offered to set up 173 smart poles in municipal corporations all over Karnataka with 140 of them in Bengaluru. Honeycomb and D-VoiS offered to install hotspots in 2,555 locations in Benglauru, Mysuru and Kalaburagi. ACT Fibernet had offered to build Wi-Fi hotspots at 1,000 spots in Benglauru and Mysuru,” a senior BBMP official said.
However, the Palike’s attitude towards fixing rentals has rendered the project mute. A similar project was taken up by the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC). The BMTC wanted to make Wi-Fi available to its passengers in 95 Vayu Vajra buses. According to BMTC officials, this has been operational. However, several drivers of these buses told TNM that no one knows the password and nobody has bothered to use it till date.
“It is only on paper. Three years ago, they introduced this Wi-Fi facility but even the staff don’t use it. Once in a while, people come to inspect and see whether the Wi-Fi is working. They don’t share the password with us. If the password is not displayed then how will people use it,” a BMTC official said.