UPSC Courses

Bharat Net Project (erstwhile NOFN)

  • 28 December, 2021
  • 12 min read
  • Relevance: Prelims and Mains
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Bharat Net Project is of national importance to establish, by 2017, a highly scalable network infrastructure accessible on a non-discriminatory basis, to provide on-demand, affordable broadband connectivity of 2 Mbps to 20 Mbps for all households and on-demand capacity to all institutions, to realize the vision of Digital India, in partnership with States and the private sector.

  • The entire project is being funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), which was set up for improving telecom services in rural and remote areas of the country.
  • The objective is to facilitate the delivery of e-governance, e-health, e-education, e-banking, the Internet, and other services to rural India.
  • BharatNet is a flagship mission implemented by Bharat Broadband Network Ltd. (BBNL).
  • National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) was launched in October 2011 and was renamed as Bharat Net Project in 2015.

Bharat Broadband Network Ltd. (BBNL)

  • It is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) set up by the Government of India under the Companies Act, 1956 with an authorized capital of Rs 1000 crore.
  • Initially, it was under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which was bifurcated into the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in July 2016.
  • Currently, it is being implemented by the Department of Telecommunication under the Ministry of Communications.


Implementation of Bharat Net Project 

The project is a Centre-State collaborative project, with the States contributing free Rights of Way for establishing the Optical Fibre Network.  The three-phase implementation of the BharatNet project is as follows:

  • Phase I: The first phase envisages providing one lakh gram panchayats with broadband connectivity by laying underground optic fiber cable (OFC) lines by December 2017.
  • Phase II: The second phase will provide connectivity to all 2,50,500 gram panchayats in the country using an optimal mix of underground fiber, fiber over power lines, radio and satellite media. It is to be completed by March 2019. For success in phase-2, which will also involve laying OFC over electricity poles, the participation of states will be important. This is a new element of the BharatNet strategy as the mode of connectivity by aerial OFC has several advantages, including lower cost, speedier implementation, easy maintenance, and utilization of existing power line infrastructure. The last mile connectivity to citizens was proposed to be provided creating Wi-Fi hotspots in gram panchayats
  • Phase III: In the third phase from 2019 to 2023, a state-of-the-art, future-proof network, including fiber between districts and blocks, with ring topology to provide redundancy would be created.

As of 31.12.2017, the status of implementation of BharatNet is as under:-

  • No. of GPs where OFC laying is completed: 1,09,926 GPs
  • Optical Fibre Cable laid : 2,54,895 km
  • Broadband Connectivity provided in GPs : 1,01,370 GPs

Role of CSCs

  • The Common Service Centres (CSCs) act as the nodal point from where the WiFi and broadband services are distributed.
  • Other than that, the CSCs also act as banking correspondents and access points for delivery of other important government services such as updating Aadhaar, getting passports made, among other things.
  • At present, there are about 3.60 lakh CSCs operating across the country.

Universal Service Obligation Fund:

  • USOF, established in 2002, provides effective subsidies to ensure telegraph services are provided to everyone across India, especially in the rural and remote areas.
  • It is headed by the USOF Administrator who reports to the Secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
  • Funds come from the Universal Service Levy (USL) of 5% charged from all the telecom operators on their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) which are then deposited into the Consolidated Fund of India and require prior parliamentary approval to be dispatched.
  • The USOF works through a bidding process, where funds are given to the enterprise quoting the lowest bid.



Critical Analysis of Bharat Net project: PPP Model

  • As against the initial target for connecting all the 2.50 lakh GPs by end of March 2019, only 1.18 lakh had been connected till then.
  • With an estimated Rs 19,516.37 crore having been invested in the scheme so far, the utilization status of the infrastructure created under this so far is discouraging.
  • Of the 1.26 lakh GPs that have been made service ready so far, WiFi hotspots are functional only in 15,000. The plan to provide fiber to the home (FTTH) connectivity is operational only at 27,856 GPs till end-December.
  • Reason: In its defense, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) — the nodal agency for implementation of the project — has blamed the network architecture, the connectivity to old BSNL fiber in part of the network operation and maintenance through BSNL as some of the reasons which had held back optimal utilization of the network.
  • To overcome the failings of nodal agencies involved in the implementation of the project, the Centre now plans to rope in the private sector and complete the phase one as well as phase two part of Bharat Net under the public-private-partnership (PPP) model.

Details of the PPP model suggested by the Niti Aayog for Bharat Net Project

  • Under the model, the private sector will be invited to bid circle-wise for the Bharat Net project and the maximum contract duration of the project is likely to be 25 years.
  • The selection criteria for private service partner (PSP) will be their quote for viability gap funding, and the bidders will be expected to provide “on-demand” internet connectivity with minimum speeds of 50 Mbps to at least five development institutions in the area.
  • The private service partner (PSP) will have the flexibility to re-locate the equipment installed at the BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) exchanges and gram panchayats. It would also have the flexibility to create/upgrade the network.

Challenges in the PPP model for Bharat Net Project 

  • To ensure “affordable and fair pricing” which is likely to change if the private players have their way.
  • The financial reconciliation of work done so far under phase one of BharatNet, which is pending as final documents from central public sector units have not been received so far, is also likely to be a challenge.
  • Apart from these, the government thinks tank is learnt to have warned about the change in the outlook towards BharatNet, which, when envisaged, was mooted as a “national asset with non-discriminatory access to all service providers”.
  • The handling of Right of Way (RoW) for enhanced architecture and newly created network, along with the integration of phases one and two of BharatNet was also flagged as a challenge.
  • DoT will have to find a solution to termination of ongoing work under the scheme and handing it over to the private sector.
  • Involving private players could affect pricing: The entry of private players for the completion of projects of Bharat Net under the PPP model could mean an increase in prices of services being offered nearly free of cost by the government as of now. WiFi services under Bharat Net are free till March 2020. If private players are allowed to complete projects, they are likely to look to recover their costs. It is yet to be seen if the upcoming projects will be completed on a sharing basis or the government would look to just facilitate the approvals while leaving infrastructure to the bidders.

Mains Question

What do you mean by e-Governance? What are the Government efforts to make India a Digital India?

PT Question

Consider the following statements: 1) Bharat Net aims to establish infrastructure network of broadband connectivity in the PPP manner. 2) The funding for BharatNet comes from MEITy allocations. Which of the following is correct? a) 1 only b) 2 only c) Both 1 and 2 d) Neither 1 nor 2

Essay Topic

Digitalisation of India
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