Foreign telecom infra providers, including Chinese vendors, have been kept out of the government's ambitious Rs 45,000-crore rural digital outreach program, Bharat Net, as homegrown companies have been accorded preferential treatment under the Make in India initiative.

Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said the government wants to create a stronger local manufacturing base in the critical project, which will provide internet-fiber connectivity across 2.5 lakh gram panchayats by March 2019.

Also, the government will set up as many as 7.5 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots in these locations.

The sourcing of optical fiber, electronics, network terminals, digitization platforms and other accessories is being done by using Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) technology that has been provided to local players. "The technology — which is low on maintenance and designed for rugged terrains — has been indigenously developed by C-DoT. It is being used by the local companies for Bharat Net project," Sundararajan said, adding that the project work handled by local makers is to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore in the two phases of Bharat Net. The companies making the equipment and fiber include L&T, Sterlite, United Telecoms (UTL) and Tejas.

Giving an update on the Bharat Net project, Sundararajan said the Rs 11,000-crore Phase 1 will be completed by next month and will connect 1 lakh panchayats through fiber optic network.

The government will on Monday start the second and final phase of Bharat Net, which has an outlay of around Rs 34,000 crore and will connect another 1.5 lakh panchayats by March 2019.

At the completion of the project, the government will lay 20 lakh km of optic fiber that will be used to provide internet connectivity. "We expect telecom operators to provide at least 2-megabit-per-second speed to rural households," the telecom secretary said. Broadband services rates, Sundararajan said, are expected to be low due to intensive competition and also because the government is offering bandwidth at rates which are nearly 75 percent lower to those prevailing in urban areas. Telecom operators such as Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone are interested in providing services under Bharat Net. The government will provide support of Rs 3,600 crore to telecom operators for rolling out Wi-Fi in villages. – TOI