The Union Cabinet has extended the second phase of the BharatNet project that forms the backbone for the Union government’s Digital India initiative. The second phase aims at covering the remaining 1.50 lakh Gram Panchayats (GPS).
The approval entails a total estimated expenditure of Rs.42,068 crore for the implementation of project bankrolled from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
Moreover, the Union Cabinet also has approved a modified implementation strategy of BharatNet project for providing broadband connectivity to all GPs by March 2019.
The Centre is still working on completing the phase I of the project for which the deadline was March 2017. It was able to lay optical fibre in nearly one-lakh GPs, however, only about 22,000 GPs (22%) were provided Internet connectivity due to equipment procurement issues.
Compared with use of only underground optic fibre cable to establish connectivity in the phase I, in the phase II a mix of underground fibre, aerial fibre, radio and satellite media would be utilised to connect the remaining GPS.
The modified implementation strategy of BharatNet project will enable effective and faster implementation of various mission mode e-governance projects of the Union and state governments. It will facilitate electronic delivery of services to citizens of various e-commerce, e-governance, e-health services and e-education etc. thereby facilitating inclusive growth.
The Bharat Net Project is the new brand name of National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) which was launched in October, 2011 to provide broadband connectivity to all 2.5 Lakh gram panchayats (GPs) through optical fibre. It was renamed Bharatnet in 2015. Bharat Net is being funded through Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)
USOF was formed by the Central Government to help fund projects to boost connectivity in rural areas. The money for this fund comes through a ‘Universal Access Levy,’ charged from the telecom operators as a percentage of various licenses fees being paid by them.