Context:

The Union Cabinet  approved a viability gap funding support of up to ₹19,041 crore for the implementation of the BharatNet project through Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model in 16 States.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Industry and Infrastructure (Government Policies & Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the BharatNet project
  2. What is the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)?

About the BharatNet project

  • BharatNet is a flagship mission implemented by Bharat Broadband Network Ltd. (BBNL) – BharatNet Project is basically the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) that was launched in 2011 and got renamed as BharatNet project in 2015.
  • The project is being executed by BSNL, RailTel, and Power Grid and is being funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) and has subsumed all the ongoing and proposed broadband network projects.
  • The BharatNet Project aims to facilitate the delivery of e-governance, e-health, e-education, e-banking, Internet and other services to rural India.
  • It aims to connect all of India’s households, specifically rural households through demand, affordable high-speed internet connectivity to fulfill the objectives of the Digital India programme in partnership with the states and the private sector.
  • The Bharat Net project proposes broadband connectivity to households under village Panchayats and even to government institutions at the district level.
  • It intends to cover all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats for the provision of E-governance, E-healthcare, E-Commerce, E-Education, and Public Interest Access services.
  • The deadline for completion of the BharatNet Project had been extended till June 2021 from December 2020, and a notice had been issued to Tata Projects Ltd for failing to meet projected milestones.
  • The three-phase implementation of the BharatNet project is as follows
    1. The first phase envisages providing one lakh gram panchayats with broadband connectivity by laying underground optic fibre cable (OFC) lines by Decmeber 2017.
    2. The second phase will provide connectivity to all 2,50,500 gram panchayats in the country using an optimal mix of underground fiber, fiber over power lines, radio and satellite media. This is a new element of the BharatNet strategy as the mode of connectivity by aerial OFC has several advantages, including lower cost, speedier implementation, easy maintenance and utilization of existing power line infrastructure. The last mile connectivity to citizens was proposed to be provided creating Wi-Fi hotspots in gram panchayats
    3. In the third phase from 2019 to 2023, state-of-the-art, future-proof network, including fiber between districts and blocks, with ring topology to provide redundancy would be created.

What is the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)?

  • The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) was established with the primary objective of providing access to ‘Basic’ telecom services to people in the remote and rural areas at reasonable and affordable prices.
  • Universal Service stands for universal, interdependent and intercommunicating, affording the opportunity for any subscriber to any exchange to communicate with any other subscriber of any other exchange.
  • The USOF proposes to meet its social, economic, political and constitutional objectives which are as follows:
    • To extend the telecommunication network.
    • To stimulate the uptake of Internet and Communication Technologies (ICT) services.
    • To bring the underserved and unserved areas of the country into the telecom spectrum and narrow down the access gap.
    • To use the pooled USO levy for an equitable distribution through target subsidies.
  • Subsequently, the scope was widened to provide subsidy support for enabling access to all types of telegraph services including mobile services, broadband connectivity, and creation of infrastructure like Optical Fiber Cable (OFC) in rural and remote areas.
  • With access to affordable telecom services in remote and rural areas, the USOF is the right step towards stemming urban migration. This would ensure to generate employment opportunities in the rural areas which would help generate more income.

Who are the partners of USOF?

As per the Department of Telecommunications, there are 24 partners of USOF. It includes:

  • Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited
  • Tata Tele Services Limited
  • Reliance Communications Limited
  • Vodafone
  • Bharti Airtel Limited, etc.

-Source: The Hindu

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