Broadband internet connectivity has the potential to empower the country’s rural masses by giving them access to information and public services such as education and health, as well as ensuring their financial inclusion. The BharatNet project was initiated with the goal of providing high speed digital connectivity to rural India at an affordable price. In addition, the project seeks to facilitate the proliferation of broadband services in rural areas so as to foster socio-economic development. This is in line with the vision of the Digital India programme, which aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
BharatNet is the world’s largest rural broadband connectivity project. It envisages a network of close to 700,000 km of optic fibre cable (OFC) to provide broadband connectivity to the country’s 250,000 gram panchayats. Phase I of the project has been completed, connecting 100,000 gram panchayats as of December 2017. Phase II has been launched and is envisioned to be completed by March 2019.
Strategy for Phase II
Unlike Phase I, which provided broadband connectivity by laying underground OFC, Phase II is seeing the deployment of an optimal mix of underground and aerial OFC installations. Apart from fibre, radio and satellite are also being utilised to provide connectivity. Approximately 70,000 gram panchayats will be covered using underground OFC, around 48,000 gram panchayats will be connected through aerial OFC and 30,000 gram panchayats using radio. Another 2,000 gram panchayats will be connected via satellite, the majority of which are in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand.
Further, while the implementation of Phase I was carried out by only three central public sector undertakings (PSUs) – Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), RailTel Corporation of India Limited and Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid) – the implementation of the second phase will be carried out by the state governments and private players, besides the central PSUs. Under Phase II, BSNL is in charge of eight states – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, and Jammu & Kashmir. Tenders for these states have been floated and are under evaluation. Fibre roll-out in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu is being undertaken by the respective state governments and seven of these states have already released requests for proposal (RfPs). Phase II in the states of Punjab and Bihar will be implemented under the private sector model. To this end, RfPs have been floated and the bids are currently under evaluation. Meanwhile, Powergrid is in charge of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand and tenders for both the states have already been floated.
The per annum tariffs for asymmetric bandwidth from the blocks to the gram panchayats under the BharatNet project range from Rs 700 per Mbps to Rs 200,000 per Mbps for less than 10 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps of bandwidth. On the other hand, per annum tariffs for symmetric bandwidth from the blocks to the gram panchayats range from Rs 1,000 per Mbps to Rs 50,000 per Mbps for less than 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps of bandwidth. Under asymmetric bandwidth, the upload bandwidth is half the download bandwidth whereas under symmetric bandwidth the upload and download bandwidths are equal.
Moreover, the government will give a discount if a single application is filed seeking bulk bandwidth for multiple villages. For instance, a discount of 5 per cent will be offered for bandwidth requested for 1,000-5,000 gram panchayats in a single application, 10 per cent for 5,000-10,000 gram panchayats, 20 per cent for 10,000-25,000 gram panchayats and 25 per cent for more than 25,000 gram panchayats. In addition, the tariff for BharatNet dark fibre on Bharat Broadband Network Limited’s OFC has been set at a uniform rate of Rs 2,250 per fibre km per annum. The above-mentioned tariffs are applicable till March 31, 2019.
The way forward
Once the BharatNet project is completed, a large high speed rural communication network will be created. This will prove to be a game changer, bringing the country’s large rural population into the digital fold. The network could be used for providing diverse services such as education and healthcare and would work towards transforming rural India.