The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is weighing ways to increase the involvement of private players in BharatNet, or the National Optic Fibre Project, which has been designed to provide broadband to every nook and corner of the country.
Going by media report, the telecom regulator is likely to submit its recommendations to the government by the month-end for implementing the project with a greater private partnership.
But the moot point is—are the telcos or the private players ready to be a part of this project?
The telecom operators are already shelling a huge amount of money for USOF fund, they are also investing heavily in modernizing the networks and also bracing themselves up for the upcoming spectrum auctions to tap spectrum to pull off data demand. So, in such a scenario can we expect more investment from the private players for this national project?
Rajan Mathews, Director General, COAI, the GSM lobby group, had said: “The BharatNet project does not include service offering as it is focused on laying of optic fiber only. For end-to-end services, telcos will have to set up their own infrastructure at the gram panchayat level.” “Until and unless a strong business case is built including designing of the services, provisioning of these services to the customers, hosting and tariff options, affordable smartphones, affordable data plans, etc, there will be no takers for this connectivity at the block level,” he added.
Recently, Gopal Vittal, CEO, Bharti Airtel, has also hinted that the company is not going to play a role in BharatNet during a press meet.
It should be noted here that the project has already missed its two earlier deadlines and now it has been totally revamped. It targets to connect 2.5 lakh villages by December 2018 and for that, involvement of the private players is very crucial.
Industry experts said that a government-style model will not help the project to take off and participation of wide range of potential stakeholders in the ecosystem is the need of the hour.
Rajesh Charia, President, Internet Service Providers Association of India (Ispai), says: “Dependability on government organizations will not make it a successful project…they have to work in a corporate style to achieve the target, taking into fold the private players, ISPs etc.”
Experts also say that in addition to the three PSUs– BSNL, Railtel, and PGCIL, private players should also be given responsibility to procure the cable, fiber, electronics, among others.
Some infrastructure companies have already evinced interest in the project and at the same time, private telcos, multi-service operators (MSOs), cable operators have a larger role to play here, they added.
Under the BharatNet project, (Bharat Broadband Network Ltd) BBNL is laying incremental optical fiber cable between the block and GPs. Meanwhile, as per media reports, TRAI is planning to deploy the build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) model for executing the project. It has recently floated a consultation paper and will shortly come up with recommendations.
Earlier, the telecom regulator had invited comments from various stakeholders for comments on BharatNet’s implementation model in order to ensure that the project does not fail this time. The project is very crucial for government’s ‘Digital India’ initiative and any failure will have severe repercussions on the ‘Digital Dream’ of the Modi government.