The National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) is an initiative of the Indian Government to provide broadband connectivity to over 2 lakh Gram panchayats of India at a cost of Rs.20,000 cores funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund(USOF). This project will provide the necessary infrastructure for the broadband services in the rural areas. And also it will become easy for the telecom operators to provide broadband services even in the remote areas of the country.
The government of India has approved this project on October 2011 and is lagging by three years in achieving targets. If we talk about the targets, phase I has to be completed by March 2015 which will connect 50,000 GPs, Phase II has to be completed by March 2016 and Phase III has to be completed by December 2016, which will connect to another 2 lakh GPs through a broadband network. Current status of NOFN states that barely 1% of the roll-out target had been achieved till October. The process is needed to be speed up by 50 times to achieve the targets. The primary reasons for the delay in rolling out are considered to be the delay in timely delivery of material, not having daily monitoring at the GP level, missing coordination between state-run entities involved in rolling out, and proper and timely allocation of funds. Also, Gram Panchayat buildings are not in good condition.
The department of telecom (DoT) has told the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that it would be impossible to meet the March 2016 deadline set by Prime Minister for the complete rollout of the NOFN. They expect to complete the project by December 2016, which is nine months later than PM’s deadline. DoT argued that the average rate of laying, with best in class execution capacities, even by the private sector, has not exceeded 50,000 km per year. If we take that speed of execution, then 6 lakh kms NOFN will take at least 12 years.
The government has decided to bring in the private sector to speed up the roll-out process. The state-run entities like BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid are repeatedly failing in achieving targets. Many global companies such as Microsoft and Facebook have shown their interest in partnering with government for the last mile connectivity of NOFN. Earlier the last mile optical fibre cable connectivity requirement was estimated 2 km per village which will be higher at 2.4 km per block, which aggregates 6 lakh route km instead of 5 lakh route km, which is another reason for bringing private companies.
Various circle heads for NOFN project have complained that a large number of Gram Panchayats buildings are not in good condition. They do not even have electricity supply and not available for the project. In such case, DoT has advised officials to use public buildings such as post offices, railway stations and schools. DoT has also said that actions will be taken against those officials who are not taking decisions or delaying it. DoT has increased manufacturing capacity of fibre ducts at state-run telecom factories to 6,000 km a month from 2,000 km a month. DoT is also planning to seek cabinet approval for a near 40% escalation in NOFN project cost from Rs 20,100 crores to nearly Rs 28,000 crores.
With these all combined efforts of government, DoT and private companies – question still remains, will government be able to achieve the targets for NOFN roll-out?