Odisha has emerged as the country’s most digitally backward State by virtue of having around 10,060 villages out of mobile communication network. The red herring for the State is the overall mobile tele-density for the first time has posted a decline of 0.42 per cent in the fiscal year ended on March 31, 2018.
According to the data available with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the mobile tele-density in Odisha in 2017-18 was 79.64 per cent vis-a-vis 80.06 per cent in 2016-17. In contrast, the national mobile tele-density has improved from 91.11 per cent in 2016-17 to 91.51 in 2017-18. Significantly, among 18 major telecom circles in the country, including North East, the mobile tele-density of Odisha in 2017-18 is fourth from the bottom. Odisha is only ahead of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Assam.
Notably, the growth in total number of mobile connections in Odisha appeared stagnant as the total mobile connections in 2017-18 were at 34.37million vis-a-vis 34.29mn in 2016-17. It needs reminding that Odisha had a total of mere 29 million mobile connections in 2015-16, which jumped to 34.29 million in 2016-17. The important fact of noting is Odisha saw addition of mere around 80,000 new connections in 2017-18 vis-a-vis the addition of around 19 million new mobile connections nationally.
An analysis shows that the stagnancy of sort in mobile density in Odisha has been attributed to a fall in urban connections in 2017-18. Data reveal that the total urban tele connections in Odisha dipped at the rate of around 3,500 connections per month in last half of 2017-18.
However, an important indication to the fore is that though the connections and tele-density in rural Odisha have inched up, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of rural tele connections for the period 2014-2018 has declined to 11 per cent from around 12 per cent a year ago. This shows the growth rate of new mobile users in rural Odisha has also been slowing down recently despite a tele-density of around 58 per cent vis-a-vis the urban tele-density of 177.6 per cent.
What the concept of tele-density signifies here is that when an urban user in Odisha has on average two tele connections; of every 10 persons in rural Odisha, not even three have mobile connections, which indicates non-saturation of mobile connections in rural Odisha.
Though the Controller of Communication Accounts has disbursed a whopping around Rs 44crore to Odisha from the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF), telecom tower network is yet to reach over 10,000 villages in Odisha. Moreover since 2014, Odisha under the scheme of mobile services in Maoist-hit areas has seen mobile network cover extended to around 338 villages.
As at the end of 2017-18, five telecom service providers (TSPs) in Odisha, including PSU BSNL, have covered over 15,540 villages. While Airtel has the largest tower network in the State covering over 4,800 villages, Reliance Jio with around 3,336 villages, Vodafone 3,056, BSNL 2,618 and Idea 1,730, respectively, followed. Though Reliance Jio plans for covering more villages under its network by 2020, it remains to be seen when Odisha would have a telecom network covering its entire geographical area.