BharatNet Project: Dept of telecommunications to float tender to invite private players

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July 04, 2021 5:00 AM

DCC to discuss RFP proposal and concessionaire agreement on July 5

The Union Cabinet had earlier this week approved a revised implementation strategy for the BharatNet project by opting for PPP mode in 16 states to cover around 3,60,000 villages at a total cost of Rs 29,430 crore.The Union Cabinet had earlier this week approved a revised implementation strategy for the BharatNet project by opting for PPP mode in 16 states to cover around 3,60,000 villages at a total cost of Rs 29,430 crore.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) is soon going to come out with a request for proposal (RFP) or tender inviting private players to participate in the BharatNet project under the public private partnership (PPP) model. The Digital Communications Commission (DCC), which is an inter-ministerial panel and highest decision-making body of DoT, is scheduled to discuss the RFP proposal and concessionaire agreement on July 5. The DoT aims to connect 3.6 lakh villages in 16 states under PPP mode in 18 months.

As per officials, all the 6 lakh villages in the country will be connected with optical fibre by August 2023. The Union Cabinet had earlier this week approved a revised implementation strategy for the BharatNet project by opting for PPP mode in 16 states to cover around 3,60,000 villages at a total cost of Rs 29,430 crore. Of this, the government will provide Rs 19,041 crore as viability gap funding.

So far, about 1.56 lakh of the 2.5 lakh village panchayats have been connected with fibre broadband. As earlier reported by FE, with this additional allocation of Rs 19,041 crore for BharatNet project, the total outlay for it has increased to Rs 61,109 crore, which includes the already approved amount of Rs 42,068 crore in 2017. However, this does not strain the government’s finances in any way, as funds for BharatNet are provided from the universal service obligation fund where around Rs 55,000 crore is lying unutilised. Telecom operators contribute 5% of their adjusted gross revenue to the USO fund.

The states to be covered under the revised plan are Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

DoT is also working on various revenue-sharing models that can be used in partnering with private players. A few years back, Niti Aayog had recommended that the PPP model should be adopted for BharatNet, and ever since the Aayog has been working with DoT to finalise a strategy.

In 2016, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had also recommended PPP model for the project. But the recommendations were not taken up by the DoT. The project was originally conceived in October 2011 by the UPA government, with an aim to provide 100 mega bit per second (mbps) speed to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats through optic fibre.

After NDA government came to power, it set up a committee to re-examine the project and suggest ways to expedite it.

In July 2017, the government cleared a revised strategy for implementing the project in three stages. In phase 1, only three PSUs —BSNL, Railtel and PGCIL — were to connect one lakh gram panchayats. In phase 2, the remaining 1.5 lakh gram panchayats were to be connected by March 2019. The deadlines have been missed.

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