Former chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Rahul Khullar on Friday termed the government’s target of connecting 2.5 lakh villages with broadband internet by March 2016 under the National Optic Fibre Network (NFON) project as unrealistic.
He further criticised the sole reliance of the project on the public sector and said that the government should also involve the private sector. He said it is a question of choice for the government as to how it spends its limited resources — on providing drinking water, education, electricity or broadband. Since the private sector is capable of expanding broadband, ideally the government should focus on providing drinking water, electricity and education with its limited resources.
“We must look at the telecom industry for developing technology and access to broadband,” he pointed out. “Where do I spend my dollar? Do I spend it on rural health, drinking water, education? You need to prioritise,” said Khullar.
Speaking at Digital Bharat 2015 seminar organised by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) with the support of department of telecommunications (DoT) and The Financial Express, Khullar said the decision concerning digital India expansion was political in nature and the government must wake up to the reality and do a post-mortem of the decisions taken in this regard. He also pointed out that the huge fund under Universal Services Obligation Fund, which is collected from telcos to fund rural connectivity is not used judiciously. “Though the fund under Universal Services Obligation Fund is primarily a budgetary support, you cannot spend it as you need. To secure the fund, you have to go through different departments in the government and that is how the projects start getting delayed. How can this work?” Khullar asked. The NOFN is being primarily being funded through Universal Services Obligation Fund.
The former Trai chairman added that there was lack of clarity on e-governance initiatives, because for this norms have to be eased by the government which seems unlikely as of now.