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About BharatNet Project


State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has floated around Rs 65,000-crore tender for the implementation of the phase-III BharatNet project.


GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. BharatNet Project: Transforming Rural Broadband Connectivity in India
  2. Phases of Implementation
  3. Budget Allocation
  4. Progress, Challenges, and Future Plans of the BharatNet Project

BharatNet Project: Transforming Rural Broadband Connectivity in India

  • BharatNet is the world’s largest rural broadband connectivity initiative, focusing on optical fiber-based internet access.
  • It is managed by Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), a special purpose organization under the Ministry of Communications, Department of Telecommunications.
  • Aligned with the Digital India program, it aims to bridge the digital divide and enhance rural internet access.
Features & Benefits:
  • Leveraging optical fiber technology, the project aims to connect over 2.5 lakh gram panchayats across India with broadband internet.
  • The goal is to provide a minimum of 100 Mbps bandwidth to each Gram Panchayat, facilitating access to e-services like e-governance, e-learning, e-commerce, and more.
  • Wi-Fi hotspots are being established in all gram panchayats, ensuring last-mile connectivity.
  • The project is expected to boost direct and indirect employment opportunities and increase income generation in rural areas.
  • Home broadband packages are available, starting from Rs 399 per month, offering 30 Mbps unlimited data and bundled OTT services.

Phases of Implementation:

  • The project is being implemented in three phases, as approved by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in 2016.
  • Aiming to cover 1,00,000 Gram Panchayats (GPs).
  • Execution carried out by three Central Public Sector Units (CPSUs): BSNL, RailTel, and PGCIL.
  • Targeted completion by March 2017.
  • Encompasses the remaining GPs using a mix of underground/aerial optical fiber cables (OFC), radio, and satellite technologies.
  • Involves three CPSUs and State Governments, often through their Discoms (Distribution Companies) or other agencies.
  • Targeted completion by December 2018.
  • Envisions a futuristic network with a ring topology connecting districts, blocks, and Gram Panchayats.
  • Targeted completion by 2023.
  • The BharatNet project’s multi-phased approach aims to achieve comprehensive broadband connectivity in rural areas, leveraging a combination of technologies and partnerships for nationwide impact.

Budget Allocation:

  • The BharatNet project has been allocated a total budget of Rs. 61,000 crore.
  • Funds are allocated in a consolidated manner, not specific to individual states or Union Territories.
  • The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) disburses a lump sum amount to Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) for project execution.
  • USOF collects levies from telecom companies to support communication service development in rural and underserved areas.

Progress, Challenges, and Future Plans of the BharatNet Project

Achievements So Far:
  • Initial goal: Connecting 2.5 lakh gram panchayats with optical fiber by August 2021.
  • Current status: Approximately 1.94 lakh villages connected; remaining villages expected to be connected within the next 2.5 years.
  • Delays caused by COVID-related lockdowns and movement restrictions.
  • Government extended the project deadline to 2025 in the Union Budget 2022-23.
Challenges Faced:

Slow Implementation:

  • Implementation progress has been relatively slow.
  • About 194,000 gram panchayats have been made service-ready as of March this year.
  • Around 6,000 gram panchayats were added from November 2022 to March.

PPP Mode Challenges:

  • Initial attempt to involve private companies through a public-private partnership (PPP) model faced challenges.
  • First request for proposal (RFP) in July 2021 received no response from private players.
  • Concerns over onerous terms and conditions and unfavorable revenue sharing model.
Future Plans:
  • Government to introduce a revised PPP model for the BharatNet project in the coming months.
  • The updated model aims to address challenges faced by private companies and attract their participation.
  • The focus remains on expanding optical fiber-based broadband connectivity to rural areas across India.

-Source: The Hindu

April 2024