The second phase of BharatNet project with an outlay of Rs 31,000 crore and a mandate to provide high-speed broadband to all panchayats by March 2019 got off the block today. Additionally, the Department of Telecom requested all states to provide a list of unconnected villages so that all of them can be connected with telecom services by 2020.
Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha, along with Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi were present at the launch of the second phase of the project. “Under the project, we will provide 1 gbps (gigabit per second) bandwidth capacity at panchayat level. The Cabinet in July 2017 approved a modified implementation strategy for BharatNet which include…project completion for all 2.5 lakh panchayats by March 2019,” Sinha said at the launch.
The telecom ministry expects to complete the first phase of the project covering over 1 lakh panchayats by the end of December. As per official data, broadband services have already been started in more than 48,000 panchayats and over 75,000 panchayats are ready for the services. “The progress of service readiness has picked up to such an extent that in October 2017 around 25,000 gram panchayats have already been made service ready. All 1 lakh panchayats under first phase will be ready for broadband by the end of December,” Sinha said.
Javadekar said that broadband connectivity in all panchayats will be key growth enabler specially in the field of education. “We want to bring revolution in schools, like there was operation blackboard in 1970s. We are now dreaming of digital board and the connectivity (through BharatNet) will transform entire nation,” he said.
Prasad suggested that all government offices should be connected with BharatNet. The project, then called the National Optical Fibre Network, was approved by the previous UPA government in October 2011. However, only about three hundred kilometres out of 3 lakh kilometres of optical fibre were laid across the country, Sinha said. “When it was launched previously it was actually no fun for any one. Little or no progress had been made…Ever since I have taken charge, I have personally been invested in this project and have made sure that all the updated timelines are met,” he added.
The total project cost is around Rs 42,000 crore of which around Rs 11,000 crore have been invested in the first phase. Under the phase 2, the government aims to connect 1.5 lakh panchayats through 10 lakh kilometres of additional optical fibre and give bandwidth to telecom players at nearly 75 percent cheaper price for broadband and wifi services in rural areas.
Reliance Jio paid the highest advance subscription fee of Rs 13 crore to provide broadband services at 30,000 gram panchayats, with a commitment to buy bandwidth in every panchayat from the government as it expands the project. Bharti Airtel shelled out Rs 5 crore for bandwidth buy to cover 30,500 village panchayats, Vodafone Rs 11 lakh and Idea Cellular Rs 5 lakh.
The government signed agreement with seven states – Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand – which will roll out the project on their own with partial funding from the central government. The Centre will provide total fund support of around Rs 10,000 crore to the state governments. Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan further asked state government to send list of unconnected villages in their jurisdiction so that all of them can be connected by 2020.