As the government prepares ground to roll out optical fibre for high-speed broadband in the second phase of Bharat Net, top telecom operators, eyeing the opportunities arising out of growing internet penetration and its cascading impact on data consumption and related services, on Monday announced their partnership with the telecom ministry for providing online connectivity in the villages covered under Phase 1. The business proposition behind this strategy is also based on the government’s estimation that by 2020, around 2.5 million state-owned institutions and 5 million households will be linked to Bharat Net for high-speed internet, which means more data consumption and use of online services. The move will help the cash-strapped operators, who in the last one year, have seen profits dip significantly due to an intense mobile tariff war.
Bharat Net, which aims to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats with high-speed broadband via optical fibres, has been divided into two phases. While the first phase, covering 1.25 lakh gram panchayats, is scheduled to be completed by next month, the second will cover the remaining panchayats and is expected to be completed by March 2019. So far under Phase 1, optical fibre has been laid in 1.03 lakh panchayats and equipment has been installed in 85,506 panchayats. Of this, a little over 75,000 panchayats are service-ready and services have already been opened in 47,836 panchayats.
Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan had said on Sunday that ICRIER has estimated how a 10% growth in internet usage will raise India’s GDP by 3.3%. “We expect around Rs 4.5 lakh crore can be added to India’s GDP once it is completed,” she said. Eyeing the opportunity from increasing broadband penetration, Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular on Monday inked pacts with the Department of Telecom (DoT) for leasing Bharat Net infrastructure to provide internet connectivity of up to 100 Mbps in around 64,000 panchayats. This was done at a national conference between the Centre and states for accelerating the project.
Jio led the industry by paying an initial amount of Rs 13.19 crore for providing connectivity in 30,000 panchayats. Its closest rival, Bharti Airtel, is also planning to cover around 30,500 panchayats, for which it has already started the survey and feasibility study. Bharti presented a cheque of Rs 5 crore to DoT as advance payment. Vodafone India and Idea Cellular have partnered DoT to provide services in 2,000 and 1,000 panchayats, respectively. Inaugurating the conference, telecom minister Manoj Sinha said through the project, the government aims to connect, inform and educate citizens as well as create jobs, make investments, contribute to the exchequer and the economy, and above all, bridge the digital divide and amplify financial inclusion.