With the phase one of the government's ambitious all-India internet connectivity project BharatNet getting closer to completion, it has set the ball rolling for the second phase.
On Monday (November 13), the government launched the second phase of BharatNet with an ambitious goal of laying 20 lakh kilometres of optic fibre connectivity for Rs 42,000 crore.
For those unaware, the government has invested close to Rs 11,200 crore in phase one of BharatNet of connecting 1.5 lakh gram panchayats and is slated to be complete by the end of this year.
Now, the government, in a bid to fast-track the second phase, is signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with major carriers -- Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular -- and offered Rs 3,600 crore subsidies to build cost-effective Wi-Fi infrastructure, which is more of last mile connectivity to the village households with a minimum internet speed of 2mbps by the end of 2019.
"India, at present, has 38,000 Wi-fi hotspots. Under BharatNet phase 2, around 6-7 lakh Wi-fi hotspots will be added with 2-5 hotspots in each panchayat. Some of the Wi-fi hotspots may not be commercially viable initially. So, we will provide viability gap funding of around Rs 3,600 crore to telecom operators," The Economics Times quoted, Aruna Sundararajan, Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, as saying.
With the subsidies, telecom operators can make use of the existing optic fibre connection to build Wi-Fi hotspots and deliver wireless internet service sooner in the villages without burdening the users with premium charges.
Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is also signing agreements with Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand that have shown interest in participating in phase 2 of BharatNet with partial funding from the government.
Unlike the first phase, the government is keen to finish the second stage and has strategised to lay underground fibre and aerial fibre depending on the area. If required, it will be using radio and satellites to offer the service to remote locations. The government is also using rugged and low-maintenance equipment manufactured domestically and technology developed by state-sponsored Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).
Though, the government move encourages domestic companies, it is seen as a snub to Chinese telecommunication equipment manufacturers such as Huawei, ZTE and others who are working with Indian private carriers.
The India-China relations had turned sour after both their armies clashed over building of roads by the latter at Doklam, a very sensitive border shared by Bhutan.
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BharatNet, earlier known as National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project, is part of Narendra Modi government's Digital India initiatives, which also include setting up of SWAN (State Wide Area Network) for government offices and NKN (National Knowledge Network) for all educational institutes.