The government on Wednesday urged states to use the rural broadband infrastructure being put in place through Bharat Net project and said it would create opportunities for monetisation and ensure that the benefits of the network reach the masses. Addressing the Rural Telecom Summit organised by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan emphasised that a strong connectivity infrastructure will be crucial to ensure the success of all ongoing programmes across areas, including health, education and others.
"With regard to Bharat Net, we have put in this infrastructure in one lakh gram panchayats, but states are not coming forward to utilise it. So, how do we reach across to the states to make sure that they utilise it because that will then create more opportunities for monetisation but, more importantly, that is necessary to ensure services reach the people," Sundararajan said.
The industry and government need to team up on projects aimed at bolstering communications infrastructure in the country, she added. "We have the fiberisation project...wifi hotspots...there are a number of areas where we need to work together. One of the things, I want to flag is that in Bharat Net program...there is a huge opportunity for stakeholders in the industry because apart from building the infrastructure, in the last phase we are also rolling out wifi hotspots," the secretary said.
The plan is to have around 12 lakh hotspots rolled out over the next 1-2 years, she said, adding that it posed a big opportunity for the industry. "As far as cities are concerned digital access is not such a challenge it used to be, but in rural India, there are a large number of pockets...also Left Wing Extremist Area (LWE), in North East...there are a number of locations where connectivity is still a big challenge. I think we must ensure that these areas are reached, that the uncovered villages are covered and the unserviced areas are serviced," she pointed out.
The ambitious Bharat Net seeks to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats through high-speed broadband by March 2019. Nearly 50% of the work on the Bharat Net project has been completed, and when fully operational, it will facilitate delivery of e-governance, e-health, e-education, e-banking and other services to citizens across the country.
However, earlier this month, the telecom department reportedly pulled up state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL) over underutilisation of BharatNet infrastructure as well as deficiencies in the maintenance of the project.