The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) was set to provide support to the telecom operators and internet service providers (ISPs) for providing connectivity services in the backward regions of the country. Hari Ranjan Rao, USOF administrator, speaking at the Broadband India Forum (BIF) event, said that fibre-based internet connection also needs to be offered to households in rural areas at very competitive rates.
According to a PTI report, Rao also mentioned that almost 99% of the villages in the country are now covered with 4G networks and are getting data at very cheap rates.
Last Mile Connectivity Needs to Reach Rural Areas as Well
Rao said the thinking at the USOF level is that a scheme should be rolled out which supports last mile connectivity in the rural areas through viability gap funding so that the networks can be taken directly to the villages and reaching households is possible.
The Indian government wants all the 2.5 lakh village panchayats in the country to get internet access through the BharatNet project.
As per Rao, over 1.47 lakh villages have already been covered, but now, since the Prime Minister has said that all six lakh villages have to be covered with optical fiber, the workload has increased, but the plans are still the same. Thus, Rao said that there’s a need to go back to the drawing board and chalk out a new plan to see how it will be possible to reach six lakh villages with optical fiber in a short time.
USOF is under the direct administration and supervision of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). The telecom operators have to pay USOF, which is included in their license fee (LF).
It is worth noting that the telcos had asked the government to scrap USOF payments from the license fee because it adds to their burden of cash outflow. However, the government hasn’t said anything about this.