Even as the Centre was able to lay down optic fibre cable (OFC) in 1 lakh gram panchayats more than two years after it originally intended to, only 22,333 of these gram panchayats have been provided active broadband connectivity. As per the internal targets set by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), rest of the gram panchayats in the first phase of the flagship BharatNet project are expected to have active connectivity in the next three months.
The original target set by the government for laying down OFC in 1 lakh gram panchayats was March 2015, but was later advanced to March 2017. As of Wednesday, 1,00,076 gram panchayats were connected with 2,19,477 km of OFC, as per information furnished by Bharat Broadband Network Ltd on its website, but only 22 per cent of these have broadband connectivity extended through Gigabit Passive Optical Network. “Broadband connectivity in balance gram panchayats of phase-I are targeted to be completed in three months,” a senior DoT official told The Indian Express.
Interestingly, compared with the three month timeline for providing internet connectivity to 77,667 gram panchayats, active broadband connectivity was extended to only 16,916 gram panchayats between March 15, 2016 and Wednesday. In March last year, almost 43,000 gram panchayats had OFC connectivity.
Of the 1,00,076 gram panchayats, OFC has been laid in 86,304 by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, 6,415 by RailTel, and 7,357 by Power Grid Corporation of India.
As per the official, all gram panchayats in certain areas have been provided with connectivity. These include all the districts of Kerala; Puducherry; Bengaluru Urban, Mandya, Hassan, and Chamraj Nagar in Karnataka; Kamrup Metro in Assam; Unokoti in Tripura; Vishnupur in Manipur; and Chandigarh.
A senior government official involved with the project’s implementation said that it would be difficult for the government to provide active connectivity in the hinterland areas if it does not adopt the public-private partnership (PPP) model. “Wherever the infrastructure has been laid down, it should be bid out to operators to find customers, maintain, collect payments, and then give a fixed amount to the government. It is not the government’s job to do marketing, it should be done by these service providers,” the official said.
The official added that as per the current model, one party is creating the infrastructure, another party will maintain it, then government will sell this infrastructure. The buyer will ask for a service-level agreement and if that agreement is not fulfilled, he will complain to the government. The government will then ask the party maintaining it to fulfill the service-level agreement. For implementation of the phase-II of the BharatNet project, which aims to connect 1,50,000 gram panchayats through a mix of different media such as underground OFC, aerial OFC, radio, satellite by March 2019, states, public sector companies as well as the private sector are expected to be involved.