Department of Telecom nod for national mobile number portability, broadband network for panchayats by 2017

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In a move that will make mobile phone number portability across the country a reality, an inter-ministerial panel today approved a proposal that allows customers to retain numbers even after switching operator or location. “The TC (Telecom Commission) has given in-principle approval to full MNP. Reference will be sent to TRAI for additional information and clarification,” a government official said.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) will seek additional details from regulator TRAI on issues like bank guarantees and clarification on number of players to be involved. At present, subscribers are allowed to change their service providers while retaining same number within a circle only.

The Commission also approved the revised strategy for implementation of Rs 20,000-crore National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project to connect 2.5 lakh village panchayats with an extended deadline of March, 2017.

The project was earlier proposed to be completed by September, 2015. “NOFN is a work of very large scale. Work for 1 lakh panchayat was given to PSUs. Now, BBNL will directly manage work for additional 50,000 panchayats,” the official said. The UPA government had formed a special purpose vehicle Bharat Broadband Network Limited for managing this project. Three public sector units — BSNL, Powergrid and RailTel — have 60 percent stake in BBNL and government 40 percent. Till date, optical fiber cable (OFC) laid in the country is 10 lakh kilometers (kms). Under the project, an estimated six lakh kilometer fibres are required.

The UPA government had signed agreements with all states and Union territories, except Tamil Nadu and Lakshwadeep, comprising 2,33,500 panchayats for laying OFC. The previous government had issued purchase order for 2 lakh kms of OFC and 1 lakh broadband equipments.

The Commission also approved the long-pending crucial project of installing mobile towers in Naxal-hit nine states, for which BSNL had submitted higher estimate of Rs 3,241 crore against Rs 3,046 crore cleared by Cabinet. The project will be placed before Cabinet for final approval. Security operations in naxal affected states have been tough due to negligible telecom connectivity.

The Commission also approved another infrastructure project for improving phone services in North East states. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had estimated a project cost of around Rs 2,900 crore. The project will also be placed before the Cabinet for final approval.

The DoT did not place spectrum sharing matter before the panel as TRAI has written to the department that it was working on the subject and would soon issue its recommendations.