The government’s ambitious project to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats with high-speed broadband Bharat Net, upon completion, could add Rs 4.5 lakh crore or roughly 3.3 percent to India’s GDP, and trigger a “massive services revolution” in the rural areas, telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said.

The project involves bringing 100 million Indians in rural areas online by 2018 and tying up with telecom operators to providing last-mile connectivity in villages at rock-bottom prices. It also envisages roping in domestic electronic equipment makers to provide equipment for Bharat Net.

“Through Bharat Net, the government is unleashing the potential of rural India. Bharat Net Phase 1 is 90 percent complete and the rest will be over by December. In parallel, telecom operators have evinced interest in providing services to the end users. Then we will have 6-7 lakh wifi hotspots in villages by December 2018. So, even before Bharat Net project is completed, the services would already have started,” she said on Sunday.

Elaborating on the government’s strategy, Sundararajan said the Department of Telecom (DoT) is working with Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular on how can they provide last-mile connectivity in villages through the gram panchayats that are service-ready under Phase 1.

She said the government has slashed bulk broadband tariffs by 75 percent for Bharat Net. BBNL and BSNL are the bulk bandwidth providers and they will provide the bandwidth to telecom operators who will then reach out to the end users. “This is 75 percent cheaper than the bulk bandwidth rate provided by BSNL to its customers,” she added.

Besides, under Bharat Net Phase 2, the government will add around 6-7 lakh wifi hotspots. Around Rs 3,600-crore subsidy will be given for this rural wifi project as the government expects there will be sometime before this becomes commercially viable, she said.

“We expect 100 million citizens to be covered by December 2018, which is the completion time for this project. We will have 2-5 WiFi hotspots per panchayat depending upon the population density. USOF will come out with the tenders for this soon. This Rs 3,600 crore will be viability gap funding,” Sundararajan said.

The government wants consortia, which should include a telecom operator or an internet service prov13ider (ISP) with pan-India licence, to bid for this project. The total cost of this project will be around Rs 10,000 crore.

“Then next year we have given a target that around 25 wired broadband connections will be given per GB so by end of 2018 we expect to have 2.5 million wired broadband connections. This will be done by cable and telecom operators,” she said.

On the ‘Make in India’ component in Bharat Net, she said the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) has developed the technology, which is suited for Indian conditions. Now domestic equipment makes and optical fiber manufactures like Starlite Tech, L&T, Tejas, etc are providing equipment for the project based on this technology.

Elaborating on the potential of Bharat Net, Sundararajan said the project will give a boost to e-commerce and several other services. It is also beneficial for telecom operators as they can shift from microwave to fiber as at present, they are on microwave due to lack of fiber. This will also trigger a massive services revolution, particularly in education and health in the rural areas.

“An ICRIER report estimated that a 10 percent growth in Internet usage will raise GDP of India by 3.3 percent. We expect that around Rs 4.5 lakh crore can be added to India’s GDP once Bharat Net project is completed. It will release the untapped demand, which will benefit the economy as well as the citizens,” the secretary said.

On Monday’s national conference on Bharat Net, she said all the state IT ministers and secretaries have been invited where they will discuss how to accelerate the project as well as on the delivery of services and e-governance programs in the states. “Also, DoT will sign MoUs with 7 states for the initiation of Bharat Net Phase 2. These states are Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand,” she added. – Indian Express