The Digital Era has opened up exciting possibilities for India. We have long been bedeviled by various divides: between rich and poor, city and village, literate and illiterate, besides larger socio-cultural ones. Much has been written about the digital divide – a new societal schism between those who possess digital devices and have the capability of using them and, on the other hand, those who do not. BharatNet – the newer, updated, and upgraded version of the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) will be the nation-wide broadband network to bridge this divide and unite Bharat and India. A network that can be used – and that is used – by each and every citizen, in every part of the country – 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by the year 2020 at a minimum of 2 Mbps download speed, with higher speeds of at least 100 Mbps possible on demand, is dependent on the success of NOFN. The original project report on NOFN prepared by Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL) in 2011 estimated a uniform broadband speed of 100 Mbps across all gram panchayats (GPs) in the country. However, the growing demand for data and the proliferation of video – for both utility and entertainment purposes – as also the booming digital economy pointed to the need for even higher broadband capacities than envisioned earlier. The increasing dependence on digital networks and the ambitious vision of Digital India necessitates reliable, secure, and fast connectivity across the length and breadth of the country.
It is these considerations of the enhanced role and needs of a nation-wide broadband network that have prompted the committee to re-examine the original architecture, capacity, reliability, and design of NOFN and to evolve this into the proposed BharatNet. This will be a robust, future-orientated network, with built-in possibilities of capacity enhancement.
The project is planned in three phases.
Phase-I envisages providing one lakh GPs with broadband connectivity by laying underground OFC lines by March 2017.
Under Phase-II, connectivity will be provided to remaining 1.5 lakh GPs by December 2018. To speed up the implementation, it has been proposed to involve state public sector units along with the three existing central PSUs, BSNL, Power Grid Corporation, and RailTel, apart from providing connectivity. This will be done by using an optimal mix of underground fiber, fiber overpower lines, radio, and satellite media for providing broadband connectivity by all categories of service providers on non-discriminatory basis.
The laying of OFC over electricity poles is where the participation of states will be important. This is a new element of the BharatNet strategy as the mode of connectivity by aerial OFC has several advantages, including lower cost, speedier implementation, easy maintenance, and utilization of existing power line infrastructure. Further, in Phase-II, the last mile connectivity to citizens is proposed to be provided creating Wi-Fi hotspots in GPs. Andhra Pradesh has had success here; it has followed an innovative approach in using technology for mapping lines using resources of MGNREG scheme and those of the power department.
There will be advance funding to states for conducting GIS mapping of existing electricity lines for aerial OFC deployment. To enhance the usage of BharatNet, it has been proposed to utilize services of cable operators for last-mile connectivity too.
The Committee on NOFN has recommended that IIT-Bombay be engaged as a consultant to provide a Media Plan for radio and satellite broadband connectivity to GPs for Phase-II and other technology issues. Also, IIM-Ahmedabad may provide the roadmap for recognition of both the SPVs – BBNL and USOF – for efficient functioning and effective project management, roadmap for process reengineering, and provide architecture and process for effective evaluation of personnel.
Phase-II could also engage the World Bank to provide project management framework, recommend standard and good practices for BharatNet management, and rural broadband demand assessment study and development of marketing strategy. The Committee also suggested that 63 fresh graduate engineers be appointed for field operations and fresh assistant managers in BBNL for capacity enhancement for implementation. Horizontal connectivity could be provided to government institutions at GP level (post offices, police stations, and higher secondary schools).
A state-of-the-art Internet, future-proof network, including fiber between districts and blocks and for 5G services and Internet of Things (IoT) era with underground OFC in ring architecture, is also planned to be completed by 2023.
The scope and scale of the project, being funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund has been increased, raising the total cost of the project from the previous estimate of 20,000 crore to 72,778 crore (with potential to reduce this cost by 6900 crore if existing BSNL infrastructure
is utilized), and increase penetration by 1.9 percent of the estimated population in 2018-19.
The potential gains from increasing such access are tremendous. The projections of the economic benefit estimate that an additional 2.5 crore Internet users by 2018-19 would result in economic benefits of 66,465 crore due to the direct, indirect, and spillover benefits of Internet access. It follows that the slow rate of growth in Internet penetration has had significant opportunity costs in terms of potential benefits forgone.
Digital India is a visionary plan for the future; BharatNet is the vehicle for attainment of this vision. All resources
and energies need to be mobilized so
that all GPs are reached in the shortest possible time. Only then would Digital India and through it the countryside would prosper.
Status of BharatNet (October 30, 2016)
Description of Work
OFC pipe laid
1,65,995 kms (73,457 GPs)
Optical fiber laid
1,42,249 kms (62,060 GPs)
3126 Blocks/1,16,559 GPs
2753 Blocks/1,00,900 GPs
Current weekly performance of optical fiber laying
Current weekly performance of OFC pipe laying
Optical fiber cable delivered on site
GPON integrated and tested (Lit)
*Does not include data of Andhra Pradesh
BharatNet (Phase-I) - Status of OFC Laid
Incremental Cable to be Laid-Phase 1
OFC Laid (%)
PGCIL (5 states)
Total (28 states and 2 UTs)
BharatNet (Phase-I) - Status of Work Started (October, 2016)
Work Started for
Work Started for
*Tenders finalized and work order issued for 453 blocks in PGCIL includes 112 blocks of Andhra Pradesh