New Delhi: The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will soon issue a revised tender, inviting bidders to set up more public Wi-Fi hotspots in every gram panchayat than it had earlier envisaged, to ensure higher proliferation of high-speed rural broadband across the 250,000 gram panchayats.

“The earlier tender was for Rs4,000 crore and at that time it was decided to set up two Wi-Fi hotspots per gram panchayat. Now we want to set up five hotspots per gram panchayat. The new tender will now be for 10,000 crore... This should happen in a week," one person aware of the matter said on the condition of anonymity.

Out of the Rs10,000 crore, almost RS3,600 crore is expected to come from the government as viability gap funding. The Wi-Fi hotspots will be available for the public in rural areas and will also connect social institutions such as police stations, primary health centres, schools and post offices.

“The revised budget has to be approved by the Telecom Commission at its next meeting," the person quoted before said.

The telecom commission, the highest decision-making authority at DoT, is scheduled to meet on 29 June, when it is expected to also discuss the telecom regulator’s recommendations on net neutrality and approve the draft of the national digital communications policy.

On 1 May, DoT had floated the draft policy for public consultation, with a target of attracting investments of $100 billion in digital communications by 2022 apart from offering universal broadband at 50 mbps.

It aims to provide 1 gbps connectivity to all gram panchayats by 2020 and 10 gbps by 2022. Other targets include enabling 100 mbps broadband on demand to all key development institutions and deploying 5 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2020 and 10 million by 2022.

These public Wi-Fi hotspots would ride on BharatNet, earlier called the National Optical Fibre Network, which is the government’s plan to connect 250,000 gram panchayats with rural broadband. The government has already completed laying optical fibre across 100,000 gram panchayats in the first phase and aims to complete the second phase by March 2019 when it will connect an additional 150,000 gram panchayats with the help of private sector participation.

“As we have completed phase one of BharatNet, the bandwidth is available. Those interested to set up hotspots can use this bandwidth. As the second phase is not done, the entities can still do the Wi-Fi hotspots with alternate backhaul and then shift to BharatNet after a few months," the person quoted before said.

“In the bid terms, we had earlier decided to set a condition for an interested bidder to set up a minimum of 10,000 hotspots, but we will reduce it to 1,000 hotspots in some states to encourage participation from small vendors as well," the person said.

On 1 May, the Telecom Commission had accepted the regulator’s recommendations on setting up public data offices (PDOs) along the lines of public calling offices to boost public Wi-Fi hotspots, which could potentially create employment opportunities by having a new category of service providers through PDO aggregators (PDOA). These “pay-as-you-go" PDOs will buy data from telecom or internet service providers and resell sachet-sized data packs starting at 2.

DoT will establish a light-touch licensing regime for the proliferation of PDOs and PDOAs for providing internet access through Wi-Fi hotspots, the draft policy states.

The commission has asked the regulator to come up with an operational framework to roll out these hotspots.

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