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The Bharat Net project, which aims to deploy high-speed optical fibre-cable network across rural areas of the country has now reached 59,945 Gram Panchayats spanning a distance of 137,515 kms as of November 2016, the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotions (DIPP) said in a report (pdf). This is up from a reach of 36,738 gram panchayts as February 2016.

Bharat Net was rebranded from its initial name National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) in April last year and aims to cover a total of 2.5 lakh gram panchayats. Its aim is to connect 90,000 villages by fiscal 2017 end. The project is funded under the Universal Services Obligation Fund—set up by the government in 2002 for providing telecommunications services in rural areas at subsided rates. Interestingly, in an agreement (pdf) made with Bharat Broadband Network Limited earlier in 2014, USOF says that the Bharat Net target was to reach 250,000 gram panchayats by 2013.

However, it is not clear how much funding was allocated by USOF for the Bharat Net project. Since its inception in April 2002, USOF disbursed Rs 33654.90 crore for various projects up till 2016 and still has Rs 47167.33 crore that can be allocated for future projects. USOF had recently cleared subsidy amount of Rs 1,250 crore to state-owned telco BSNL for its subsidized rural broadband services at rates starting from Rs 99, Rs 150, Rs 350 up till Rs 999.

No of rural connections

The DIPP report said that the net addition in overall (wireless+wireline) connections in rural areas during April 2014 to March 2016 was 69.99 million. The rural tele-density rate reached over 51 % at the end of September, 2016. Tele density is the number of phone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area.

Bharat Net for Common Service Centres

In May, The IT ministry had instructed the Department of Telecommunication to link all Common Service Centers (CSCs) under the Bharat Net project. CSCs are set up in remote rural villages and help distribute e-governance schemes and other government linked digital schemes to citizens. There were 199,325 CSCs across 29 states and 7 Union territories as of March 2016. Bandwidth under Bharat Net is being offered at a promotional tariff of Rs 700 per Mbps bandwidth per year for each gram panchayat operating a CSC.