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BharatNet to Bridge Digital Divide in Rural & Remote Areas

BharatNet broadband, base for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project, Digital India,  for providing last-mile connectivity with High Speed Rural Broadband Network for Enabling Digital India is progressing well as 2.39 lakh kms of OFC has already been laid and Optical Fibre Connectivity is now available at more than 1 lakh Gram Panchayats (GPs) under Phase I. Launch of Phase II, with signing of MOU between DoT and seven States and Utilisation of Network was inaugurated on 13 November 2017 by the Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha along with IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi. The Government has already approved state-driven model for implementation of the programme with an outlay of ₹ 10740 crore. Government of India will collaborate with States and Telecom Service Providers to deliver high speed broadband based Efficient Citizen Services in rural areas on BharatNet Infrastructure, to Stimulate Rural Economy. Healthcare and Education Services will improve.

BharatNet is Wolrd’s largest Rural Broadband Connectivity Project that entails connecting 2.5 lakh GPs covering 6 lakh villages, and as per the current status more than 85000 GPs are Service ready and 75,000 GPs can start providing services to the villages now. Government will spend ₹ 3700 crore to bring WiFi services in all the village panchayats. All GPs will have WiFi Hot spots by 2019.

BharatNett will give Non-discriminatory access to all Service Providers viz. Mobile Operators, Internet Service Providers, Cable TV Operators and Content Providers. Private telecom carriers including Reliance Jio, Bharat Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular have offered to be the part of the Government’s BharatNet project for surging usage and to use the Government driven infrastructure to offer seamless services, as the ministry has fixed payment plans for carriers to lease last-mile bandwidth on a yearly basis, using which they can offer services to end-consumers. Airtel has promised to adopt 30,500 GPs to connect its 4G broadband network using BharatNet’s optical fibre, while Reliance Jio is keen to work in 30,000 GPs, in addition to proposed plans by Vodafone India and Idea Cellular to adopt 2,000 and 1,000 GPs, respectively. Reliance Jio has paid an advance usage charge of ₹13 crore, Bharti Airtel paid ₹5 crore, and Vodafone and Idea paid ₹11 lakh and ₹5 lakh, respectively, to the Department of Telecom.

Airtel has already set up 4G base tower stations in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and those have already been made live providing high-speed 4G mobile broadband services to people through BharatNet. Airtel has also established a ‘Broadband experience centre’ in partnership with BharatNet. This centre, with around 100 Mbps bandwidth, is equipped to provide tele-medicine-remote medical consultancy, tele-education, entertainment, digital payments and e-governance services, empowering the people in these villages and achieving the vision of Digital India.

The Union Cabinet had earlier approved on 19 July 2017 the second phase of its ambitious project BharatNet (earlier termed National Optical Fibre Network or NOFN) for ₹ 18,792 crore extending deadline for the project to March 2019, towards realisation of vision of Digital India for providing Broadband connectivity to all GPs, entailing a total estimated expenditure of ₹ 42,068 crore for the implementation of BharatNet to be funded from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).

BharatNet will be able to bridge the digital divide in rural and remote areas of the country by providing robust and reliable network infrastructure for the proliferation of affordable broadband connectivity to all GPs by using an optimal mix of underground fibre, aerial fibre, and radio and satellite media at a minimum speed of 100 Mbps. Economic benefits from the project are expected through additional employment, e-education, e-health, e-agriculture, e-commerce, e-Banking etc., and reduction in migration of rural population to urban areas.

A World Bank study has estimated that a 10% increase in broadband connectivity leads to 1.38% increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Broadband penetration in India at present is less than 2%.

The modified implementation strategy of BharatNet project will enable effective and faster implementation of various mission mode e-governance projects of central government and State governments.

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