The Telecom Commission has given approval to the second phase of ambitious BharatNet project that seeks to provide broadband connectivity to 1.5 lakh gram panchayats at an estimated cost of Rs 27,000 crore. The proposal is expected to be sent to the Cabinet by March-end.
“Our reform focus will continue this year and we will further them … Both the strategy and elements of BharatNet Phase II have been approved by Telecom Commission and we will now place it before the Cabinet for their decision,” Telecom Secretary J S Deepak told PTI.
The first phase entailed a cost of Rs 18,000 crore and for the second phase the estimates are likely to be in ballpark range of Rs 27,000 crore.
“The figures of cost will be fixed only after the Cabinet approval. We are working on it and we will try to take it to the Cabinet in this quarter itself,” he said.
The ongoing BharatNet phase I seeks to connect 100,000 gram panchayats by March this year, and the next phase is expected to begin from mid-2017 running all the way up to September 2018.
The Phase II will seek to connect 150,000 gram panchayats and, for the first time, through a public-private partnership.
“The second phase entails a variety of media and implementation both by public and private sector agencies to increase capacity and speed of implementation,” Deepak said.
The BharatNet project is currently being implemented by three Public Sector Undertakings, Deepak said adding that Phase II is a “bigger task” and is likely to involve state governments, central public sector enterprises, private sector agencies and private telcos.
“Phase II is a bigger task, so we will offer state governments to implement it in the states if they want to do it. We will ask private sector agencies through EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) contracts. We will ask private telcos to do it. We will ask Central PSE to do it, all on build and share basis,” he said.
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“The build and share model will ensure that infrastructure becomes available for everyone and competition is ensured … so that the consumer gets the best deal,” he said.
Right of Way rules for faster network roll-out, spectrum harmonisation, increasing availability of spectrum through auction and Aadhaar-based eKYC for new connections, were among the key reforms by Telecom Department in 2016.
The Department will soon start working on a backhaul spectrum policy.
It has also launched a toll-free helpline – 14444 – to address consumer queries on digital payments, in collaboration with telecom and IT industry.
The helpline will address questions regarding various platforms, including the newly-launched Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM), eWallets, Aadhaar-enabled payment system and USSD.