KOLKATA: India’s ambitious Rs 21,000-crore national broadband venture is set for another delay. The communications ministry is likely to miss the revised rollout targets of the venture with Bharat Sanchar Nigam, Power Grid Corporation of India and RailTel failing to award nearlyRs 6,000 crore of cable laying & trenching (C&T) contracts for the first phase.
Cable laying and trenching is the most expensive piece of the countrywide broadband rollout, popularly known as the national optic fibre network (NOFN) venture that will take superfast internet to the hinterlands. Staterun BSNL, PowerGrid and RailTel have been mandated to handle cable laying and trenching responsibilities in the 70:15:15 ratio, and the final value of the contracts will be over Rs 11,000 crore.
The NOFN project has already suffered a two-year time overrun, following which the telecom department recently sought the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI) to implement the pan-India broadband rollout in three phases, starting with high-speed broadband links in 1 lakh gram panchayats (GPs) at an investment of over Rs 11,000 crore by March 2014.
“We’ve informed telecom minister Kapil Sibal at a recent NOFN review meeting that it will be impossible to extend broadband connectivity to 1 lakh GPs by March 31, 2014, since BSNL, RailTel and PowerGrid have not finalised the C&T tenders,” a top telecom department official told ET.
“Even if they manage to award the contracts by the month as promised, we will only be able to meet a tenth of the broadband coverage target in the first phase,” he added.
A senior executive of Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL), which is the executing agency of the NOFN venture, complained that “umpteen reminders had been sent to BSNL, which will award 70% of the C&T contracts to multiple vendors, but to no avail”.
A BSNL director, in turn, blamed BBNL for the delays. He claimed that “awarding of C&T contracts had been held up in absence of key clearances from BBNL,” adding that all relevant tenders would be finalised this month. DoT is concerned that further delays in executing the crucial NOFN project could derail the government’s pan-India broadband penetration target of 175 million and 600 million subscribers by 2017 and 2020, respectively. At present, India has barely 15 million broadband customers.
The DoT is also upset that the contracts haven’t been finalised despite the Telecom Commission recommending a payout of Rs 2,700 crore as administrative fees to BSNL, PowerGrid and Rail-Tel to hasten NOFN rollout. The TC is the highest decision-making body in the communications ministry.
The government wants to fast track the national broadband network rollout as it will be the backbone of a rural broadband ecosystem. The communications and rural development ministries have recently agreed to co-finance the delivery of government-to-citizen e-services by leveraging the NOFN backbone.
The gamut of such community based broadband services, ranging from ehealth, e-education, e-governance to ecommerce across the 2.5 lakh GPs will be delivered by BBNL.
(Source: The Economic Times, January 22, 2014)