Leading telecom carriers have committed to take their wireless services using BharatNet's infrastructure to thousands of villages, as the government announced completion of the first phase by December and launch of second phase on Monday. "With BharatNet we hope to touch several lives", Communications Minister Manoj Sinha said while addressing the people during the launch. It will be implemented at an outlay of around 34 thousand crore rupees.
The second phase will provide connectivity to all 2,50,500 gram panchayats in the country using an optimal mix of underground fiber, fiber over power lines, radio and satellite media.
Seven states signed memoranda of understanding with the Centre, to be part of the project.
The government expects to complete the entire BharatNet project, entailing an investment of Rs 42,000 crore in both the phases, by March 2019. He said that the Cabinet in July 2017 approved a Modified Implementation Strategy for BharatNet and in the modified, new and improved strategy, the most important change is the Involvement of states along with CPSUs and private sector in implementation of the project to make a win-win situation.
Initiated by the Manmohan Singh government in 2011 as the National Optical Fibre Network, the project had an excruciatingly slow start, adding only 350-odd kilometres of network by 2014. To expedite the rollout of the second phase, the central government will also be providing partial funding to the local governments of these states.
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Reliance Jio paid the highest advance subscription fee of Rs 13 crore to provide broadband services at 30,000 gram panchayats, with a commitment to buy bandwidth in every panchayat from the government as it expands the project. "We expect telecom operators to provide at least 2 megabit per second (Mbps) speed to rural households", India's telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said on November 12.
The first phase envisages providing one lakh gram panchayats with broadband connectivity by laying underground optic fibre cable (OFC) lines by March 2017.
"Under BharatNet Phase II, around 6-7 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots will be added with two-five hotpsots in each panchayat".
BSNL will roll out optical fibre in yet to be covered locations of eight states - Assam, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim - which were not covered under the first phase of BharatNet. Some of the Wi-Fi hotspots may not be commercially viable initially. "So, we will provide viability gap funding of around $550 million to telecom operators", Sundararajan said. The last mile connectivity to citizens was proposed to be provided creating Wi-Fi hotspots in gram panchayats.