The Bharat Net project, which aims to deploy high-speed optical fibre cables across rural areas of the country has now reached 80,000 gram panchayats, communications minister Manoj Sinha said in a reply to Rajya Sabha question, according to this PTI report. This is up from 59,945 Gram Panchayats as of November 2016.
Sinha added that BharatNet infrastructure will also be used to set up WiFi hotspots across all connected villages once the second phase of the projects gets completed by December 2018. The proposal includes installing 1,127 WiFi hotspots in the first phase, with plans to hit 25,000 WiFi hotspots to be set up at rural telephone exchanges by 2018. Interestingly, minister Sinha said that preference will be given to “areas affected by left-wing extremism.”
Note that 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. He added that the plan was to connect 1 lakh villages be March 2017, but clearly, the government is falling short of 20,000 villages. Sinha, however, added that the targeted 1 lakh villages will receive connectivity by the end of this month.
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 in two years (2016). However, the target was later moved to March 2018. According to the Minister Sinha’s reply, states including Kerala, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have neared 100% completion. There was no mention of rest of the states.
Recently, BharatNet received Rs 10,000 crore funding allocation from the 2017-18 budget. The project is also funded by the Universal Services Obligation Fund—set up by the government in 2002 for providing subsidised telecom services in rural areas. However, it is not clear how much funding was allocated by USOF for the Bharat Net project. Since its inception in April 2002, USOF claims to have disbursed Rs 34935.35 crore for various projects up till 2017. One of the beneficiaries of USOF includes BSNL, which had received subsidy amount of Rs 1,250 crore last year for its low-cost rural broadband services at rates starting from Rs 99.