To further promote the Centre’s BharatNet project for providing broadband services in 2.5 lakh gram panchayats of the country, the finance ministry has proposed an allocation of Rs 8,175 crore, which will be used towards completing the second phase of the programme under which 1.5 lakh gram panchayats will be covered.
Bharat Net sought to connect all of India’s households, particularly in rural areas, through broadband, forming the backbone of the government’s ambitious Digital India programme. It proposes broadband connectivity to households under village panchayats and even to government institutions at the district level. The project is being funded through the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
In its first phase, the BharatNet project saw over one lakh gram panchayats being connected across the country with high-speed optical fibre network as of December 31, 2017. Under the first phase, the project saw 2,54,895 km of optical fibre cable being laid covering 1,09,926 gram panchayats out of which 1,01,370 gram panchayats have been provided active connectivity.
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. However, the funds for NOFN were made an exception to this process since BBNL was the sole party involved in the implementation having been specifically created for it.