- BharatNet is a project of national importance to establish a highly scalable network infrastructure accessible on a non-discriminatory basis, to provide on demand, affordable broadband connectivity for all households. It was launched in 2011.
- The project is implemented by Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL), a special purpose vehicle set up under the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
- The entire project is being funded by Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
- With the BharatNet initiative, the Centre aims to connect all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats through optical fibre.
- The project is a Centre-State collaborative project, with the States contributing free Rights of Way for establishing the Optical Fibre Network.
- The objective is to facilitate the delivery of e-governance, e-health, e-education, e-banking, Internet and other services to rural India.
Why in News?
- The Union Cabinet has accorded approval for revised implementation strategy of BharatNet through Public Private Partnership mode in 16 States of the country. BharatNet will now extend upto all inhabited villages beyond Gram Panchayats (GPs), in the said States.
- The States covered under the Cabinet approval are Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. An estimated 3.61 lakh villages including GPs will be covered.
- The PPP Model for BharatNet will enhance efficiency, quality of service, consumer experience and leverage private sector expertise, entrepreneurship and capacities for accelerating achievement of digital India.
Approval to cover all inhabited villages
- The Cabinet also accorded in principle approval for extending BharatNet to cover all inhabited villages in the remaining States and UTs. The Department of Telecommunication will separately work out the modalities for these (remaining) States/UTs.
- At present, more than 1.56 lakh crore gram panchayats have already been connected with the scheme and are service ready. The Centre plans to connect the remaining villages in the coming days too.
- The extension of the scheme was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15 last year, with a vision to ensure broadband connectivity to all 6 lakh villages in the country in 1,000 days.
- Extension of the reach of BharatNet to all inhabited villages with reliable, quality, high speed broadband will enable better access of e-services offered by various central and state government agencies,
- It would facilitate online education, telemedicine, skill development, e-commerce and other applications of broadband, while generating more revenue apart from generating direct and indirect employment.
- In 2003, the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) was set up by The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act, 2003 which gave its statutory status.
- The main aim of USOF is to provide access to telecom services in a non-discriminatory manner to people in the rural and remote areas at affordable and reasonable prices, thereby bridging the rural-urban digital divide.
- It also aims at equitable distribution of the fruits of the telecom/digital revolution and fair allocation of national resources via targeted subsidies.
Foundational Pillars of USOF
- Availability: the level of service should be the same for all users in their place of work or residence, at all times and without geographical discrimination
- Affordability: for all users, the price of the service should not be a factor that limits service access
- Accessibility: all subscribers should be treated in a non-discriminatory manner with respect to the price, service and quality of the service, in all places, without distinction of race, sex, religion, caste etc.
- USOF inflow comes from the collection of Universal Access Levy (UAL) through the license fee charged on licensees of the Department of Telecommunications @ 5% of the adjusted gross revenue (AGR).
- For commercially non-viable rural and remote areas, USOF provides subsidy support in the form of Net Cost or Viability Gap Funding (VGF) to incentivize telecom service providers.
- It should be noted that USOF is a non-lapsable fund, i.e., the unspent amount under a targeted financial year does not lapse and is accrued for next years’ spending.
Project funded by USOF
- Refer Above
Other Projects funded by USOF include
- Comprehensive Telecom Development plan (CTDP) for North East Region
- Comprehensive Telecom Development plan (CTDP) for Islands
- Providing Mobile services in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas
- Providing Mobile services in Aspirational & Uncovered villages