A film festival to hard sell government’s internet coupons


NEW DELHI: Common service centres (CSCs), or digital kiosks, are planning to offer consumers in remote areas access to a catalogue of over 4,000 movies and other entertainment content, in a bid to attract first-time internet users in farflung areas.

According to a top official, CSCs have been given the mandate to offer last-mile internet connectivity through BharatNet to homes, through a system of pre-paid monthly coupons. These services can be either through WiFi or direct-to-home fibre. “Movies and entertainment seem to be a good proposition to get people to pay for the internet for the first time,” said a senior government official.

The official added that people who buy the internet coupons will get free movies and entertainment content initially. “It’s a strategy to make people get a taste of internet before driving more use cases,” the official said.

Recently, Union Minister for Electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad said that internet services offered by all CSCs will be free till March 2020. BharatNet will cover a total of 250,000 locations in its second phase. Once CSCs start charging for the internet services, the coupons will be priced differently for different regions and will be under Rs 500 per month.

CSCs have partnered with Zee-owned SugarBox Networks for the initiative, which will be run as a pilot in 100 locations and will be implemented by next month. The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY)- run CSCs have a network of over 3,60,000 centres across the country.

The official said in many remote regions, private broadband services are not available and 4G mobile connectivity is patchy. High speed broadband through BharatNet — which will enable fast streaming or downloads — will give CSCs the edge over private players who may be offering mobile services in those areas.

Rohit Paranjpe, CEO of SugarBox Networks, told ET that installing the SugarBox in an area will help in optimising broadband usage and improve the overall viewing experience. “We are piloting it for six months to see the consumptions trends… After that we can work out several pricing models including something like a movie streaming pack for Rs 5 a day in an area,” Paranjpe added. The company will launch more services such as gaming, ecommerce and e-learning among others through its platform, he said.

RailTel has also chosen Sugar-Box to provide content on demand (CoD) services for the Indian Railways on trains and railway stations across the country. The project is expected to be completed by 2022 and will be implemented in trains pan-India, including suburban rail networks.