The government on Monday has kicked off the second phase of the BharatNet project with an outlay of Rs.. 31,000 crores. The project now aims to provide high-speed broadband to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats by March 2019, and for the first time, private telecom operators have signed for the project to take their services to rural parts of the country.
The Mukesh Ambani-led telco, Reliance Jio, has made an initial payment of Rs. 13 crores for taking fibre connectivity from Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL) to offer connectivity to 30,000 panchayats in rural areas.
Bharti Airtel, India's leading telecom has made a payment of Rs 5 crore advance to provide data connectivity to 30,500-gram panchayats and has also claimed to become the first service provider in the country to connect its 4G network using BharatNet’s optical fibre. India's second and third largest telcos, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, made payments of Rs. 11 lakh and Rs. 5 lakh, respectively.
Under the new phase, the government is aiming to deploy additional 10 lakh kilometres of optical fibre and give bandwidth to telecom players at nearly 75 percent cheaper price for broadband and wifi services in rural areas, according to media reports, which added that the total project cost is around Rs 42,000 crore of which around Rs 11,000 crore was invested in the first phase.
Reports said that the telecom department has now requested all states to provide a list of unconnected villages so that all of them can be connected with telecom services by 2020.
Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha said that the government we will provide 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) bandwidth capacity at panchayat level under the project. He added that the Cabinet in July 2017 approved a modified implementation strategy for BharatNet.
His ministry now expects to complete the first phase of the project covering over 1 lakh panchayats by the end of December, even as broadband services have already been kicked off in more than 48,000 panchayats, while around 75,000 panchayats are set to get services. "All 1 lakh panchayats under the first phase will be ready for broadband by the end of December," Sinha said.
Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand have inked agreements with the central government to roll out the project on their own. The central government will partially fund these state-level projects.
According to reports, the central government will provide total fund support of around Rs 10,000 crore to the state governments.