New Delhi: Optical fibre cables (OFC) have been laid in about 32,000 gram panchayats across the country till November, against the original target of connecting 150,000 village councils by the end of 2015, the Economic Survey said.

“...up to 30 November 2015, 1,03,643 km of pipes and 74,994 km of optical fibre cables (OFC) have been laid. Further, OFC has been laid in 32,049 gram panchayats," the survey said.

BharatNet, or the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project, was conceived in 2011 to connect all 250,000 gram panchayats in the country through optical fibres, using the networks of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, RailTel Corp. of India Ltd and Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd and laying additional fibres where necessary.

The 20,000 crore BharatNet project is aimed at bridging the connectivity gap between gram panchayats and blocks and providing broadband connectivity.

Telcos, Internet service providers and cable TV operators can launch various services in rural areas using OFC while the government expects to provide access to e-health, e-education and e-governance services.

An analyst said the fact that 32,000 panchayats had been connected with OFC indicated that some headway had been made.

“Considering where the project was a few years ago, or even last year, they are showing good progress. While the project is still 80% behind schedule, there seems to be momentum building," said Prashant Singhal, global telecommunications leader at consulting firm EY.

In view of the tardy pace of work on the project, the government last year constituted a committee under former information technology secretary J. Satyanarayana to come up with suggestions to accelerate it.

The committee suggested restructuring the project, involving the private sector in the actual deployment as well as a massive increase in expenditure to as much as 72,000 crore.

Analysts said the biggest problem for the project is right of way. It refers to the legal rights of a company installing the optical fibre cables in a certain area or property that belongs to somebody else.

“Right of way is the main issue. That needs to be addressed first if the government’s Digital India objectives are going to be achieved," Hemant Joshi, partner at consultancy Deloitte Haskins & Sells, said.

Separately, the survey said that the department of telecommunications (DoT) earned 1.09 trillion (67.8% more than the reserve price of airwaves) from the March 2015 auction by selling 418.05 megahertz (MHz), 88.8% of the 470.75 MHz of available spectrum in the 2100, 1800, 900 and 800 MHz bands.

DoT also earned 5,568.40 crore as spectrum usage charges during 2015-16 (up to November 2015).

“The performance of the telecommunications sector during 2015-16 has been encouraging, with approximately 33.4 million new telephone connections added during April to October 2015, which is way ahead of the 29.65 million increase in the number of connections in the corresponding period of 2014-15," the survey said.

Overall teledensity, or the number of phone connections per 100 people, increased from 79.4% in April 2015 to 81.5% at the end of October. Total broadband connections reached 120.9 million (as of end-September 2015). Continuing on an optimistic note, the survey said the introduction of 4G phone services could be a game changer in the telecom industry.

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