BENGALURU: With barely 20 days left for the start of a new academic year, the Karnataka government is scrambling to provide internet connectivity for both school and college students in the hinterlands. Due to fears of an impending third wave of infections, the government has decided to keep schools closed and instead host classes online.
Estimates suggest about 38 lakh students primary and secondary school students struggle without net connectivity. The government held discussions with five major telecom service providers in the state on Wednesday, but that yielded little result.
“At a meeting with EV Ramana Reddy, additional chief secretary, information department, the telecom companies, including Airtel, Jio and BSNL, cited major concerns over economic viability of expanding tower networks to cover areas that have little or no access to the internet,” said primary and secondary education minister S Suresh Kumar.
Reaffirming this, officials from the IT-BT department said the telecom companies had said setting up towers in rural Karnataka is an “expensive” affair. As per the latest data, till January 2021, there were 41,968 mobile towers in the state with as much as 60% of it being added in the past five years.
“The biggest challenge is the right of way (RoW) policy which is hazy when it comes to rural Karnataka,” said Meena Nagaraj, director, ITBT department. “While the urban development department has already spelt out plans in line with the Government of India 2016 policy, RDPR is yet to do so. We expect this to be completed next week. Having said that, we have also asked telecom companies to list their concerns. The government will look into and possibly resolve them.”
The state is now looking at a “hybrid model” of classes for children who neither access to the internet or devices. This includes tying up with civil society organisations such as Shikshana Foundation, which is run by technocrat Prashanth Prakash. He is also chief minister BS Yediyurappa’s policy and strategy advisor.
“Wherever reach of technology is limited, we will use civil society assistance to ensure no child is left out of the education system,” Kumar said. “We have formed a task force comprising civil society members to advise the government on the best approach to reach children in the remote areas.”
Meanwhile, at the higher education level, despite distributing one lakh tablets to students, the lack of connectivity is causing anxiety as many are unable to use the devices.
“We are in talks with internet service providers for dedicated lines to particular locations like gram panchayat offices to ensure there is uninterrupted service to students,” said deputy chief minister and higher education minister CN Ashwath Narayan.