Goa well-equipped for On-line Education, “without Internet”

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
30 June 2020 22:30 IST

Yes, it’s true. And ONLY Goa can do it, right now. No need for the Internet, no searching for connectivity and not even a mobile phone required, if you don’t have one. 

Right from the state capital of Panaji to your panchayat or municipality, there is a dedicated broadband, that too underground, already been laid down through the most powerful Optical Fibre Cable. A clustered network of more than 1500 kms across the state.

And from these local hubs, it’s connected to 476 educational institutes all across the length and breadth of Goa that include schools, higher secondary schools, colleges, ITIs and all other professional institutes. 

It’s called INTRANET, not Internet, mind you. Don’t get confused.

It  works within the state, connected through cables. Internet is required to connect the world outside. This INTRANET facility in Goa is connected with high speed bandwidth, which requires no towers, no Internet Service Providers (ISP) like BSNL, Airtel, Vodafone, Jio etc etc. or even WiFi service. 

And the speed is amazing. From state headquarters in Panaji, it’s 10 GBPS backbone to district and taluka headquarters and 1 GBPS distribution layer system to the municipalities, village panchayats etc. 

The educational institutes as well as government offices in the locality are connected from these hubs.

And if required, this speed can be zoomed up to 100 GBPS up to taluka headquarters, 10 GBPS to panchayat and municipality hubs and then equivalent speed to the schools, colleges etc.  

It’s called Goa Broadband Network (GBBN), the first of its kind in the country launched only in Goa on 27th December 2007 and inaugurated by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh  by holding a video conference with taluka headquarters. 

It was a pilot project tried out in Goa and was then extended throughout India, calling it BharatNet, under the supervision of Sam Potroda, who was instrumental in today’s telecom revolution in India. 

I had an opportunity to interview him, when he was in Goa in 2015, and spoke extensively on how this broadband  technology could be used for on-line education. Click here to watch it.

WHAT DOES GBBN PROVIDE?

The GBBN network has been built and operated by United Telecoms Ltd since 2007 after connecting district and state headquarters as well as all panchayats, municipalities and major government offices in towns. 

Later, Nupur Technologies has connected all government offices and educational institutions from the local hubs. Unfortunately, condition of this last-point connectivity is in a bad shape today, though network till panchayat level is in perfect shape. 

This is what GBBN can provide:

At government and educational level, Intranet and Internet facility, transferring data, voice (IP telephone), and video (IP TV) including video conferencing facility. 

At the public level, data, voice and video through the Internet. Gwave is part of it. 

HAS GBBN BEEN TRIED?

In 2007, after the PM inaugurated the GBBN service, then CM Digambar Kamat was using  the video conferencing facility through INTRANET to hold meetings of Mamlatdars etc from district collectorate offices. 

Election Commission of India has been using GBBN Intranet to hold Lok Sabha and Assembly elections and network its official communication.

Goa’s major cooperative banks are using the Intranet service of GBBN.

Almost all local TV channels of Goa are run on the Intranet service of GBBN with uninterrupted video broadcast of full High Definition (HD) quality.

All Live TV programmes, including Assembly Live, which I had an opportunity to be part of in 2009 when I was with Prudent, followed by Election Results Live, Carnival-Shigmo Live or Festival of Ideas Live etc etc. It is all being done till date using GBBN Intranet service.

Many TV channels are using the Intranet service of  GBBN through GWave to transfer its video content between major cities. You don’t require separate upload and  download time for it. It works on one common account connected to all the points in cities or villages. 

Mathew Lopes, a young techno-savvy entrepreneur, is providing most of these services through his IT firm ‘M Electronics’. Besides providing connectivity for Live programmes of Government of Goa and also Assembly, he also provided Intranet connectivity to Goa Doordarshan last year to broadcast the Golden Jubilee IFFI Live. 

In addition, many TV cable operators in cities and villages are using GBBN Intranet backbone to reach out cable connectivity to the households. 

And last but not the least, this Intranet connection has already reached around 12,000 households, who have already taken Internet connections of Gwave with a WiFi router in the house. I am one of them.  

DYNAMIC CONNECTIVITY

Questions regarding the GBBN network have been asked several times in the Goa Assembly, but  unfortunately never came up for discussion. Neither any ruling party nor opposition MLAs, in the last 15 years, discussed how GBBN could be utilised for E-Governance and E-Education, not only for the students but also farmers. 

In one such  question asked by Congress MLA Aleixo Reginald Loureco on 28th July 2015, then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had replied how GBBN is being used for e-learning. (Click here to read the official reply.)

The next day, 29th July 2015, there was another question asked again by Reginald and replied by then IT Minister Francis D’Souza. (Click here to read). 

Besides other issues, this reply provides the full list of educational institutions, which are connected through GBBN. (Click here to view the list). 

goanews.com has compiled this list to know the exact number of educational institutions connected through GBBN, even by bifurcating newly formed Dharbndora taluka from Sanguem taluka. 

GBBN CONNECTIVITY TO EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTES

Unfortunately, the connectivity from Panchayat hub to the schools/colleges and Government departments has run into controversy due to alleged shabby works. 

In the same question asked by Reginald on 29th July 2015, then IT minister Francis D’Souza admits that Nupur Technologies has not completed the works as per the tender requirements. As such, a vigilance inquiry is being instituted against it. 

But the underground cables (OFC) laid down by UTL are running efficiently throughout Goa (exceptional cases could be found).  This network has reached up to panchayats in villages as well as several major government offices in the cities, which could be used as Point of Presence (POP) locations. 

This dynamic network has also resolved a major irritant. Cutting of cables due to some digging work underground or falling of trees etc for overground cables (in some parts of the cities). The whole cabling is networked in such a way that even if cable gets cut, it automatically connects through other links. It’s called Failover Links or Redundant Links. Thus it becomes  the most secured network and much more  reliable than the Internet. 

HOW TO REACH HOUSEHOLDS FOR ON-LINE EDUCATION?

Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant recently announced that his government would resolve the issue of poor Internet connectivity in different parts of Goa by laying additional fibre cables and also increasing the number of towers. 

He also plans to broadcast centralised classes for the whole state by using Doordarshan and the local TV channels. This could resolve the issue of on-line education centrally but not by connecting their respective teachers to the students in each institution. 

Laying of additional cables and increasing the number of towers for Internet connectivity would also not work since everything would ultimately depend on the bandwidth (Internet speed), which is not powerful enough for video streaming throughout Goa. Buffering is a frequent irritant. 

And the shadow area of Internet towers is an issue that remains unresolved till date, whether in well-connected cities or isolated villages. Also the opposition of locals to install towers in residential areas, no matter if the grounds are scientific or not, continues to raise its head.

But here is the readymade INTRANET connectivity already in place, which neither requires fluctuating Internet connectivity nor the towers etc. The audio-video signals and the data runs through the Optical Fibre Cable, which is fastest in the World right now. (Click here to confirm)

Thus, instead of spending government funds on laying cables and erecting towers for Internet connectivity, the government could spend much less on connecting all the educational institutions by  immediately pulling overhead cables, wherever cables are damaged. 

WiFi connectivity in schools was tried on pilot basis by the government in 2016. Then chief minister Laxmiant Parsekar had replied in the Assembly in this regard. (Click here to read)

After discussing with some officials in the IT-related departments, IT professionals, my friend Mathew Lopes, my colleagues in the cable TV channels as well as some cable operators, these are the practical suggestions I have come across. It could help the authorities to make on-line education a reality with immediate effect:

1) Till all the schools are connected after repairing the damaged cables, teachers can hold on-line lectures from taluka centres and students could be brought in batches to the Community Halls of Panchayats and spread out  with social distancing and other safety measures. Because panchayats already have uninterrupted Intranet connectivity in place. The sessions could also be interactive. 

2) Government can allot franchises to provide house connections of GBBN to the existing cable operators. Either students can attend the classes on TV or they can  install a WiFi router to connect it to computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones. 

3) Existing GWave subscribers are readymade households with even WiFi routers. No need for TV connections. GBBN has to simply send Intranet signals to these connections.

4) It would also help the teachers to conduct classes simultaneously, which  they normally do as per their time table. Because the GBBN Intranet has the fastest bandwidth and the connectivity would not drop.  

In short, the GBBN could provide virtual classrooms to all the educational institutes, till we come out of the Covid19 crisis. 

And this need not be a temporary arrangement. Even if tomorrow the lockdown is lifted and Covid19 crisis is over, this system could be used to strengthen the online education system forever by creating new educational tools. It was already on the agenda of late Manohar Parrikar!

POSTSCRIPT: My daughter, while studying in school, had used (not misused) the Tablet provided by the Government for her education. Unfortunately, the scheme is now wound up on flimsy grounds. Now she is in the Second Year, studying at Chowgule College, Madgao. The frequent lockdowns did not affect her except going to college and attending classes, meeting friends, having other activities etc. The college practices on-line education even otherwise and she has been studying from home, as usual.  

Blogger's Profile

Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of goanews.com, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of HCN and Prudent, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities.

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Previous Comments

Your details on Intranet is full of knowledge. When I was serving in school we assumed that it is only for downloading circulars from dept & Board. We never knew about teaching process through this.With your full details on this at least now onwards let schools put efforts to teach out students specially where it is difficult to get internet connections.

- Ramchandra S Naik, Poinguinim | 01 st July 2020 10:43

 

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