NEW DELHI: Every Indian village without mobile connectivity is likely to get connections in a year from now, if a new incentive model devised by the department of telecommunications (DoT) works out.
Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have teamed up with DoT to reach the last 43,000 villages without cellular services, Cellular Operators Association of India director general Rajan Mathews said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants these villages connected within a year, Mathews said, along the lines of the last-mile connectivity achieved for cooking gas and electricity supply.
“Telcos didn’t go there earlier because the commercials don’t work. DoT is now coming up with a model where they will give 100% subsidy (for capital expenditure). Basically, the government will pay for it and telcos will set up the network and operate it," Mathews added.
“The (DoT’s) intention is to also subsidize (network) operating costs for five years," he said. After this period, the infrastructure will be handed over to the operator.
Under the model, the government will divide these 43,000 villages into three categories—easy-to-cover, medium difficulty, and hard-to-cover. After this, it will form pools comprising villages from each of these three categories. Telcos will then bid for these pools and will not be allowed to disaggregate the villages from the pools.
Whichever telco bids the lowest amount to provide connectivity to these pools will win the bid. The government is working on other modalities, including the total size of the project.
An email query to DoT did not elicit any response till press time.
So far, the government was dependent on state-run operator BSNL to reach these unconnected villages.
According to data from DoT, Odisha had 9,940 villages without mobile services, Maharashtra 6,117 and Madhya Pradesh 5,558. Other villages lacking mobile services are located in border areas, islands and the north-eastern states.
The fresh focus on connecting the villages comes after telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad met top officials of telcos last month and assured them of the government’s full support on outstanding issues, such as cut in levies and refunds, apart from asking the industry to reach all villages within a year.
According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, as of May end, rural tele-density was 56.42. Teledensity is the number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living in an area.
There were 505.59 million rural wireless subscribers in the country as of May end. The share of rural wireless subscribers in the overall wireless user base is 43.52%.
Interestingly, the national digital communications policy, approved by the Cabinet in September 2018, had set a goal to provide universal broadband coverage, deploy five million public Wi-Fi hot spots by 2020, and 10 million by 2022 through a National Broadband Mission, apart from implementing a “Fibre First Initiative" to take fibre to the home.
In February, DoT announced plans to monetize fibre assets built by the government under its flagship mission BharatNet by leasing the assets for a 20-year period after a bidding process. This comes against the backdrop of concerns over poor utilization of digital infrastructure that has been created across more than 100,000 gram panchayats in the country.