None of the telecom operators bid last week for a government-funded project for rolling out mobile networks in uncovered parts of the North East region. The project was approved by the Cabinet two years ago.
“There was no bidder for the project when tender was opened on September 22,” an official source said.
The Cabinet in September 2014 approved Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for the North-Eastern Region entailing an estimated expenditure of Rs 5,336.18 crore to be funded from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
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The project envisages providing 2G mobile coverage in identified uncovered areas and seamless mobile coverage along National Highways in the North-East region.
At present, there are 43,200 villages in this region, of which 9,190 (21 per cent) are not connected to any mobile network. Under this project, the Cabinet approved coverage of 8,621 villages through installation of 6,673 towers.
The project has been divided in two parts where tough terrain, which include two districts of Assam and Arunanchal Pradesh, has been given to state-run telecom firm BSNL for installing about 2,100 mobile towers and the rest was kept for private telecom operators.
When contacted, telecom industry body COAI Director General Rajan S Mathews said, “Telecom operators could not participate primarily because of investment reason. Right now everybody is occupied in rolling out 4G networks, improving networks to address call drop and there is fund crunch because of upcoming spectrum auction.”
He said that the Cellular Operators Association of India had written to the Department of Telecom for easing tender norms but these were not relaxed.
Indian telecom gear makers body TEMA too approached the DoT opposing its move to limit participation to only mobile service providers for the project.
TEMA and even telecom operator Idea Cellular requested it to allow infrastructure providers (IP-1) to bid for the project but the DoT rejected the demand.
“It (limiting it to telecom operators) will benefit only a few select mobile operators who were, in fact, supposed to provide coverage in these areas as per their licensing terms and conditions, but never reached there even after 15-20 years of issuance of licence,” TEMA had said in its letter.