The government’s aim to provide high-speed broadband in villages using Bharat Net infrastructure has failed to achieve any significant success as the utilisation target to provide last mile internet connectivity to rural households from 1.15 lakh service-ready gram panchayats (GPs) has been found to be less than 10%.
Several officials from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) whom FE spoke to said that this is a “very serious issue” as Bharat Net is one of the flagship projects of the government and abysmal utilisation of its infrastructure indicates lack of coordination and inter-agency tussle.
A senior DoT official said that despite weekly and fortnightly reviews in last two years, some officials have been found to be shirking responsibility along with the inability to deal with on-field problems. “What’s more disturbing is that inter-organisation issues have cropped up between the implementing agencies, BSNL and BBNL, which is threatening to derail the earlier achievements,” he added.
BBNL, a public sector undertaking, is the special purpose vehicle (SPV) set up by government to enable the connectivity, while state-run telecom operator BSNL is entrusted with the task of laying optical fibre for the project.
Another official said that till October, 1.15 lakh GPs were service ready, which means that last mile internet connectivity from the GP to the consumer using Wi-FI hotspots or other means can be provided.
“Detailed instructions were given on operations and management (O&M) as well as on utilisation of Bharat Net infrastructure, including by telecom operators and internet service providers (ISPs). But extensive field reports suggest non-functioning of 80-90% of the GPs and there is massive under-utilisation, even non-utilisation in many cases,” he added.
Another senior official said: “Though utilisation targets were already set, the actual utilisation on ground is believed to be less than 10%. This means there is utter lack of professionalism on part of BBNL and BSNL with poor planning, lack of monitoring and coordination between them”.
Bharat Net, which aims to connect 2.5 lakh GPs with high-speed internet, will act as the backbone for government’s ambitious Digital India Mission for providing services online to people in villages. The first phase for connecting 1 lakh GPs was completed in December last year and the second phase to connect 1.5 lakh GPs by March 2019 in under implementation.
Concerned over the lack of utilisation of Bharat Net infrastructure, the DoT has read the riot act to officials in BSNL and BBNL. Earlier this month, directions were issued that “disciplinary action” would be initiated against officials who fail to rectify issues in GPs within 48 hours.
However, many within the department are of the view that it is “too little, too late” as these issues had been identified early on, but not much serious efforts were put to rectify them.