The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a revised implementation strategy for the BharatNet project by opting for public-private partnership mode in 16 states to cover around 3,60,000 villages at a total cost of Rs 29,430 crore. Of this, the government will provide Rs 19,041 crore as viability gap funding.
Communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the revised strategy for implementation of the BharatNet project, which aims to connect all the gram panchayats of the country through optic fibre for providing broadband services, will have two new components. The first will be that BharatNet will now extend up to all inhabited villages beyond the gram panchayats (GPs) in the said states. Second, the revised strategy includes creation, upgradation, operation, maintenance and utilisation of BharatNet by the concessionaire who will be selected by a competitive international bidding process.
Prasad said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on August 15, 2020, that around 6 lakh villages in the country will be connected with broadband in 1,000 days. He said that till date, 1.56 lakh out of the 2.5 lakh village panchayats have been connected with broadband.
As earlier reported by FE, with this additional allocation of Rs 19,041 crore for the BharatNet project, the total outlay for it has increased to Rs 61,109 crore, which includes the already approved amount of Rs 42,068 crore in 2017. However, this does not strain the government’s finances in anyway as funds for BharatNet are provided from the universal service obligation fund where around Rs 55,000 crore is lying unutilised. Telecom operators contribute 5% of their adjusted gross revenue to the USO fund.
The states to be covered under the revised plan are Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Cabinet also accorded an in-principle approval for extending BharatNet to cover all inhabited villages in the remaining states and union territories, and the department of telecommunication will separately work out the modalities for the remaining states and UTs.
The government said that the PPP model will leverage private sector efficiency for operation, maintenance, utilisation and revenue generation, and is expected to result in a faster rollout of BharatNet.
The selected concessionaire – private sector partner – is expected to provide reliable, high speed broadband services as per the pre-defined services level agreement (SLA). “Extension of reach of BharatNet to all inhabited villages with reliable, quality, high speed broadband will enable better access of e-services offered by various central and state government agencies. It will also enable online education, telemedicine, skill development, e-commerce and other applications of broadband. It is expected that revenue will be generated from different sources, including proliferation of broadband connections to individuals and institutions, sale of dark fibre, fiberisation of mobile towers, e-commerce, etc,” a government statement said.