The Telecom Commission is likely to consider BSNL’s Rs 1,648 crore bid for setting up mobile towers in unconnected villages of the North East in its meeting tomorrow, official sources said. Mobile towers will be installed under the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for the North-Eastern Region (NER) which was approved by the Cabinet in September 2014. Under the plan, 8,621 villages out of 9,190 unconnected villages are to be covered by installation of 6,673 mobile towers with total outlay of Rs 5,336.18 crore.
“Telecom Commission is likely to consider BSNL’s part of North East telecom project tomorrow,” a government official, who did not wish to be named, told. The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), which is handling the project, is likely to submit bid proposal for installing around 4,000 out of the 6,673 mobile towers. The state-run BSNL has been entrusted with task of installing network in tough terrain of Arunachal Pradesh and two districts of Assam — Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao.
It has submitted bid received from Vihaan Networks Limited and HFCL for installing around 2,000 towers for Rs 1,648 crore. These two domestic telecom equipment firms had rolled out mobile network project for BSNL in Left wing extremist areas across nine states. Rest of the project was to be rolled out with help of private telecom operators. After no show by private telecom players for the tender, the USOF finally received a bid from Bharti Airtel this year which was cleared by the Telecom Commission in its last meeting on September 8. Airtel has placed a bid for installing around 2,000 mobile towers for around Rs 1,660 crore.
According to sources, the USOF has deferred plan to roll out mobile towers in Meghalaya for time being and will work on the project through separate tenders. The Telecom Commission will also discuss recommendations of inter-ministerial group. The IMG — tasked with finding a remedy to the financial difficulties of the telecom sector — had recommended that the payments for spectrum purchased in auctions be made in 16 installments (16 years) as against the current practice of 10 years.
The IMG had also favoured a cut in interest rates on penalties by switching from PLR based to MCLR based rate, which could provide relief of about two percentage points in the current situation. The Indian telecom industry, which is in the midst of an intense tariff war, owes a staggering Rs 4.6 lakh crore to various financial institutions and banks. Old telecom operators have blamed their declining margins to tariff war triggered by entry of Reliance Jio about a year ago. The panel in its last meeting had sought additional details from IMG over on its recommendations.