Andhra Pradesh to complete FSOC network across the state within a year

J A Chowdary Advisor IT & Special Chief Secretary Chief Minister Government of Andhra Pradesh1

Although the Government provides optical fibre connectivity to every home, there are possibilities of someone tampering the cables for unethical purposes. That’s where Free Space Optical Communication (FSOC) plays a role. It’s being developed by Google. FSOC provides high speed wireless internet connectivity to a distance of upto 20 km. J.A. Chowdary, Special Chief Secretary to CM&Advisor to Govt. of AP speaks with Mohit Rathod and Abhishek Raval

Could you elaborate on the Free Space Optical Communication (FSOC)?

Although we are able to provide optical fibre connectivity to every home, there are possibilities of someone tampering the cables for unethical purposes. That’s where we want to use the FSOC. It’s being developed by Google which earlier used this technology for communication with the International Space Station (ISS). The same technology is being commercialised and for the first time in the world, Google wants to use it in Andhra Pradesh. The company will also manufacture the devices in Visakhapatnam. One interesting thing about this technology is that connectivity can be established in a short time.

Which are the areas that FSOC will cover in the state and how many devices will be deployed?

The initial deployment will be in the tribal areas – they are largely unconnected. With this implementation, the tribal population can interact with government officials; even the Chief Minister through video conferencing. It will also enable digital healthcare services, wherein patients can speak to doctors through digital means. Similarly in education, teachers can conduct classes digitally; and e-commerce can also be extended to these areas.

FSOC takes no time to be deployed because there’s no big installation cost involved. When we conducted an experiment, the communication was set up within just an hour. These devices will be deployed wherever it is necessary to provide the backhaul network. The entire FSOC infrastructure will be developed in the state within one year. Google is also looking in the country as a market for these devices, and is even planning its export from India.

Could you shed light on the Andhra Pradesh Fibre Grid project?

The reason why the Chief Minister, for the first time in the country, thought about having the fibre in every home is because, for the success of the Digital India program, it is imperative to have the basic digital infrastructure. It will result in the availability of high speed internet connectivity to every region. After demonetisation, there was no connectivity in most places, thereby also impacting digital payments.

There are several reasons why urbanisation is happening. One is lack of good quality education; second is inadequate healthcare facilities; the third is that the middlemen are taking away farm produces and goods. Due to the absence of internet connectivity, e-commerce is also hindered in these areas. These days shopping is done through e-commerce. For someone to sell locally produced handicrafts for instance, the best platform is e-commerce. Hence realising the importance of these applications, our Chief Minister thought about bringing fibre connectivity to every home, which will enable digital infrastructure for all the sectors such as education, healthcare, e-commerce and so on.

This will also help in addressing grievances; digital interface between citizens and the government will bring convenience and also eradicate corruption. The slogan we are working on is ‘Invisible government, good governance’.  For this, digital infrastructure is required and bandwidth is essential. Looking at these factors, we discuss internally how we can build digital infrastructure through optical fibre. Initially we got a costing of about `5,000 crore and it will take at least about two years, but our Chief Minister said that we don’t have that kind of budget and though if we can use the same Infrastructure used by the cable television providing services. They draw the cables through electrical poles, and that’s the approach we are also using thereby bringing down cost to `330 crore. The timeframe has also been reduced to six to eight months. That’s how the AP Fibre Grid project was conceived. We are glad that President Ramnath Kovind has now inaugurated this project.

Technology is a good equalizer, creating a level-playing platform for the haves and have-nots. In a country like India, technology is the only way for addressing the issues of the common man. Using this we are able to provide connectivity such as phone, digital television, and internet – through which a vast amount of knowledge on various topics such as Blockchain can be gained. Another important thing the Chief Minister thought about is financial empowerment solution for increasing farmers’ income. Pilot project for this has already been started with one company. Once this is implemented, villagers can earn additional income through digital works. This will facilitate growth for the rural economy.

Please elaborate on the Andhra Pradesh Surveillance Project.

It is not possible for the police to ensure total surveillance through patrolling, so the drone technology can be highly useful. Drones can follow any suspected vehicle, making it easier for the police to trace it. Likewise, we are identifying many such applications. Another application of drone is that of monitoring agricultural lands for information on crops and land damage. It can also collect data, for the last three years for instance, and guide the nearby agriculture officer on predictions regarding crops. We are trying to take visual data of crops to check infestation. Similarly, drones can also monitor the rural road network and status of under-construction roads, which further ensures quality infrastructure. These are the reasons behind setting up of Andhra Pradesh Drone Corporation. A lot of companies manufacture drones in the state and we are going to use them for law and order, agriculture and infrastructure related purposes. In terms of surveillance, we are now connecting surveillance cameras, helping the police to nab the culprit in real time. We want to provide these services to the people on a subscription model.

Could you shed light on the latest updates in Blockchain?

Providing a push to equalization and democratization of the government also involves some threats. When everything is put in digital form, there is also a risk of cyber threats. To curb this, there’s a need to have a robust cyber security mechanism. Hackers are now using AI-powered bots to conduct attacks. With these threats, citizens lose interest in digital systems. The Chief Minister has said that the government will ring-fence all the digital assets by end of 2019 – all the digital assets of the Andhra Pradesh government will be re-fenced through Blockchain. We have already completed a couple of pilot projects, and recently we had a meeting with all the department heads on the execution plan for implementing Blockchain across the state. We have already got a project named ‘AP Blockchain 2019’.

Could you brief us about the Real Time Governance Center at the Secretariat Building in Andhra Pradesh?

It is a command and control center located at the Chief Minister’s office in Amaravati. It provides end-to-end connectivity to every district administration. We also have a big call centre – operated 24×7. The Chief Minister urges real time monitoring of every project through drones. The Chief Minister, in his chamber itself, has access to the digital interface of the RTG, wherein he can monitor. The RTG centre employs about a few thousand people. We have also got Asia’s largest Video Wall installed in our command and control center in Amaravati.

Today file movements are also tracked at every moment, under e-governance in the state, helping to identify where the delay in process exactly happens. Using the real time governance mechanism, we are able to issue certificates, measures and redressals. With a country like ours with huge population, there are many complexities and technology helps in real democratization of good governance.