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The Department of Telecom has floated a tender for setting up over 500,000 WiFi hotspots across gram panchayats under the BharatNet program run by the Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), PTI has reported.

“This document intends to outline a high-level approach for implementation of WiFi hotspots or any other suitable broadband technology at every gram panchayat (GP) covered under the BharatNet program of Bharat Broadband Network Limited,” said the tender document.

The project is expected to be rolled out by the end of this year. The telecom department earlier approved Rs. 4000 crore for installation of 5 lakh WiFi hotspots in GPs BharatNet broadband infrastructure.

“Once these institutions will be connected digitally, it will empower citizen in a rural area with quick and efficient service and keep them up to date with urban India,” a DoT official.
Currently, there are over 43,000 WiFi hotspots installed in rural areas under WiFi Choupal Scheme. Data usage has jumped 190% within six months of the service as of April this year, reports The Times of India.

BharatNet’s multiple missed deadlines

BharatNet’s first project was to connect 250,000 villages with broadband by laying down high-speed optical fibre cables in rural areas. Launched in 2011, it has been plagued with deadline deferrals and a change of hands at the centre. Originally supposed to be completed in 2013, the UPA-2 pushed the deadline to 2015. The NDA then pushed it thrice — the final deadline is December this year. As of now, about 150,000 gram panchayats have been linked reports ET.

In a Rajya Sabha reply in April, Communication Minister Manoj Sinha said that BharatNet infrastructure will also be used to set up WiFi hotspots across all connected villages by December 2018. But these WiFi hotspots were to be set up only after a successful deployment of fibre cables under the BharatNet Scheme, as MediaNama has earlier reported.