It is one thing to have an optical fiber infrastructure across the country even in the remotest corners, but another thing to ensure that this infrastructure is properly utilized. The Standing Committee looking into the BharatNet project has highlighted & reiterated the need to encourage TSPs, ISPs and other players to use this infrastructure.
In the earlier story on Standing Committee’s Action Taken Report on BharatNet, we discussed those recommendations where the Standing Committee did not accept the action taken response by the government. Apart from these 6 recommendations, there were another 15 recommendations made by the Standing Committee in its 50th Report – ‘Progress of Implementation of BharatNet’. Of these, 10 of the recommendations were accepted by the Government and action wherever necessary was taken. The Standing Committee did not seek any clarification on the response of the government regarding these recommendations. There were 5 more recommendations for which the replies of the government were of interim nature.
In this story, we take a look at these key recommendations of the Standing Committee and the response provided by the government.
Committee observed that fiber network has not reached most of the Gram Panchayats
The second observation of the Standing Committee was regarding the implementation of the project under Phase -I. The committee observed that while the Optical fiber cable (OFC) has reached State, Districts and Block Headquarters, it has not yet been extended to most of the Gram Panchayats (GPs).
- Nearly 92% of the 6,442 Blocks have OFC connectivity with 395 Blocks (NE States, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, and Jharkhand) not having any OFC connectivity.
- Most of the OFC laid by Private Telecom Service providers (TSPs) is in Urban & Semi-Urban areas.
Further, the committee observed that the department did not have the far-sightedness regarding the implementation in spite of the magnitude of the project. (Laying of 6.5 lakh Km of Optical Fibre, with the next biggest being the 2 Lakh KM being laid by Broadband Network in Australia). This has affected all the aspects of the project, leading to the delays and missing deadlines.
Reply of the Government
The government highlighted the following challenges which led to the implementation delays of this large-scale project, which had a target of laying around 2.2 lakh KM of OFC in 1 lakh GPs under Phase -1.
- Involvement of multiple agencies – DoT, BBNL, CPSEs, Central & State Agencies, contractors etc.
- Challenges in awarding contracts for geographical areas with complex terrain.
- Delays with Right of Way (RoW) permissions from different departments and state governments.
- Unavailability of Gram panchayat Building in few of the states.
The first phase to cover 1 lakh GPs was completed in December 2017. As per the latest update on 04 January 2019,
- Pipeline was laid in 48% of the GPs.
- Cable is laid in 48% of GPs
- Service is made available in 46% of the total number of GPs
Based on the observations of Standing Committee regarding the delays in implementation and the overall handling of the project, a mechanism was put in place to ensure the momentum and pace of the project is sustained.
- State Level Implementation Committees formed in all the 8 states under State Led Model
- Implementation committee formed under CGM BSNL in all the states where BSNL is implementing the project
- Steering Committee (under Administrator USOF) formed for monitoring the project and resolving issues with all implementing agencies
- Control room is set up in BBNL corporate office specifically for this project. Regular project reviews with State Heads of BBNL & CPSUs
- Appointment of Nodal Officer specifically to deal with ROW permissions
- Establishment of Empowered Committee
- Regular review meetings at Minister and Secretary levels
The Committee did not seek any clarification for this response provided by the government.
Utilization of the Infrastructure & need for faster implementation among other observations
Apart from its observation on the delay in the implementation of the project, the committee has also made recommendations and observations on other aspects related to the project – Implementation of Phase -II, Financing & Utilization of the funds, utilization of the infrastructure, performance of implementing agencies etc.
The government responded and provided an update for each of these recommendations/observations. The Standing Committee has taken cognizance of these responses by the government and has not sought any further clarifications. Here is a summary of these other recommendations/observations and the government’s response on the action taken.
|Implementation of Phase -II & Utilization of Funds: |
The committee has observed that there would be a need of around ₹72 thousand crores for laying 17 lakh Km of OFC, with scope of further increase in the costs. Hence the committee has recommended identifying alternate sources of funding apart from the current funding being done through USOF.
As on 31/12/2018, around ₹ 47 thousand crores are available with USOF and these are sufficient for the on-going project.
| CPSU Model |
The committee has observed that implementing of the project through 3 CPSUs (BSNL, RailTel & PGCIL) for Phase -I has not been satisfactory and it showed incompetence on their part in implementing the project. With only BSNL & PGCIL taking up implementation of Phase-II the committee hopes for better implementation.
| Utilization of BharatNet by TSPs & BSNL |
The committee took cognizance of the below developments of utilizations of BharatNet Infrastructure by Telecom Service Providers (TSPs):
Standing committee has noted that while these are welcome developments, the utilization is still very low compared to the capacity. Encouragement needs to be provided to ISPs, Cable TV operators, content providers etc. to launch services in rural areas.In respect to BSNL, the committee notes that:
Committee asserts that BSNL has tremendous scope of provision and extending its services using BharatNet and that it needs to utilize the available infrastructure.
| The committee is appraised that as per the modified implementation strategy, the project would become revenue neutral by March 2024 i.e. 5 years after the targeted completion of project. |
Phase -III The Committee has also made recommendations/observations on Phase-II of the project which relates to upgrading of the network to meet future requirements. One of the propositions is to lay underground OFC suitable for 5G services, Internet of Things etc. Further, the present linear design of Block to GPs might not be suitable for few service providers, for which NOFN has suggested laying of fresh OFC. However, Phase-III was not part of Cabinet note at the end of 2017, for which Committee expressed its dismay as Phase-III is expected to be potentially bigger compared to the first two phases.
| The department has updated that it would take up actions like – survey, planning, design & developing implementation strategy post the approval of Phase -III by government. |
Standing Committee has flagged the action taken by government as interim in nature for five of its recommendations
Out of the 21 recommendations, the responses for action taken by the government regarding five of them have been categorized as interim in nature by the standing Committee. These recommendations/observations made by the Standing Committee were mostly regarding Works in Progress or aspects which are yet to be actioned. The department has appraised them of the latest updates.
The committee has not sought further information since it seems to have been satisfied by the interim response provided. These observations were regarding:
- Performance of PGCIL during Phase -I and the rationale of using their services in Phase-II. The department has updated about the relative expertise of PGCIL in laying overhead OFC and the utilization of services in Himachal Pradesh & Uttarakhand.
- Update on Private sector participation for the project in two States – Punjab & Bihar.
- Provision of connectivity through Satellites for states like – J&K, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh & North-Eastern States where there are challenges in the implementation due to topography.
- BharatNet has been successfully implemented in – Kerala, Karnataka, Chandigarh, Puducherry, Haryana & Rajasthan. Hence, the committee has opined that the focus now needs to be on encouraging usage of the infrastructure, especially by the respective States/UTs. The department has stated that an MoU is being proposed with all the States to use the infrastructure in their respective departments and to connect the government institutions at GP level.
- The committee was also appraised about the reorganization of BBNL, which was constituted specifically to oversee the establishment, implementation and maintenance of BharatNet.
Featured Image: BharatNet Infrastructure