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Capacity Building: Progress under BharatNet
The government’s project for rural connectivity, BharatNet is driven by the objective of providing high speed broadband access (100 Mbps or more) to all gram panchayats in the country by 2018. Besides serving as the backbone of Digital India, broadband access will be instrumental in providing government services in villages, thereby empowering citizens. Its second objective is to provide fibre to service providers at the gram panchayat level on a non-discriminatory basis. Further, the project envisages providing last mile connectivity through telecom service providers, internet service providers, cable TV providers, etc.
The project is being implemented in three phases. Under Phase I, 100,000 gram panchayats will be connected by March 2017. Phase II, to be completed by December 2018, aims to connect the remaining gram panchayats through an optimal mix of underground and aerial optic fibre cable (OFC), radio media using existing and new towers and satellite media. The final phase involves setting up a state-of-the-art network with underground OFC in ring architecture for 5G services and internet-of-things, to be completed by 2023.
Progress so far
As of June 2016, tenders for about 93,756 gram panchayats have been finalised and work has started in 84,834 gram panchayats. Pipes have been laid in 64,000 gram panchayats and OFC has been pulled in 53,113 gram panchayats. In terms of length, 148,986 km of pipes have been laid and 123,373 km of OFC has been pulled. Currently, connectivity has been provided to only 7,162 gram panchayats as one of the partners in the project was unable to deliver services satisfactorily.
The second phase involves project execution by three central public sector undertakings (CPSUs) along with other CPSUs that have the capacity to implement the project, as well as state government agencies and state PSUs. The government will provide advanced funding to the states for conducting geographic information system mapping of the existing electricity lines/ poles for aerial OFC deployment. Other strategies include state models of providing broadband connectivity to gram panchayats, provision for horizontal connectivity to government institutions at the gram panchayat level, approval for setting up Wi-Fi hotspots at the gram panchayat level for citizens, and pilot projects to test technology and commercial models for providing services using BharatNet at the gram panchayat level.
Some of the steps that have been taken to enhance the usage of BharatNet are:
• Provision of horizontal connectivity to government institutions at the gram panchayat level under Phase II.
• Provision of last mile connectivity by service providers through viability gap funding in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode, with the first right of refusal lying with the CSC.
• Funding of pilot projects to test the technology and commercial model through the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund.
• Multi-service and local cable operators to be considered for providing services to citizens at the gram panchayat level.
• Skilling architecture to maintain the equipment and cable is being worked out with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and CSC.
The project offers various opportunities to private players as well. These include, access to terminal equipment at the block and gram panchayat level, radio and satellite equipment, and underground and aerial OFC supplies. Further, the bandwidth in gram panchayats would be available on a non-discriminatory basis to all service providers for launching their services in gram panchayats and beyond. s
Based on a presentation by Ashwani Salwan, Deputy Director , General, Broadband, USO Fund
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