The Government of India is planning to offer $550.2 Mn (INR 3,600 Cr) subsidy to private telecom companies through viability gap funding, in a bid to connect gram panchayats via Internet as part of the second phase of BharatNet.
BharatNet is an initiative that aims to provide Internet access to people in rural and semi-urban areas across the country by March 2019.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is also in the process of partnering with state governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand. To expedite the rollout of the second phase, the central government will also be providing partial funding to the local governments of these states.
Commenting on the development, DoT Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said, “We will launch phase 2 of BharatNet tomorrow to connect 150K gram panchayats with high-speed broadband by March 2019. Phase 1 of the project, under which 100K GPs were to be connected, will be completed by the end of this year. We expect telecom operators to provide at least 2 megabit per second speed to rural households.”
The companies that will be working with the government on last-mile connectivity include Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio, among others. Through the $550 Mn subsidy, the Indian government is hoping to rapidly increase the number of WiFi hotspots around the country.
Elaborating further, Sundararajan said, “India, at present, has 38,000 Wi-fi hotspots. Under BharatNet phase 2, around 600K to 700K WiFi hotspots will be added with 2-5 hotspots in each panchayat. Some of the WiFi hotspots may not be commercially viable initially. So, we will provide viability gap funding of around $550 Mn to telecom operators.”