New Delhi: India is set to take a giant leap in connectivity as work begins soon on a grand, Rs.20,000-crore ($3.3 billion) project to link its 250,000 village councils with high-speed data cables to take e-governance to the grassroots and facilitate e-services in fields ranging from education to entertainment in this sub-continental nation.
"We have completed 70 percent of the groundwork," said N. Ravi Shanker, chairman and managing of Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL), set up by the government to execute this project, referring to the preliminary work in terms of hardware assessment and surveys.
"It will take another two-three months to conclude this survey. Then we will know if we have correctly assessed the requirement at 500,000 km of optic fibre to connect these 250,000 village panchayats (village councils). Work will start soon after," Shanker said in an interview.
At present, optical fibre cable connectivity is available in all state capitals, districts and blocks. To this, incremental cables will be laid to take it to the village panchayat level as part of the project to link this huge country`s over 650,000 villages through the National Optical Fibre Network.
The network, Shanker said, will transform several aspects of a citizen`s life by allowing high-speed video, data, internet and telephone services, which will be deployed for a host of areas such as e-education, business, entertainment, environment, health and e-governance services.
Bharat Broadband being a new company, the survey work has been entrusted with three state-run firms -- Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), RailTel Corp and Power Grid Corp, all of which are already in the optic fibre business for their own networks.
"We allocated various states to these companies. The work at around 180,000 panchayats is being done by BSNL, and for 35,000 each is being done by Power Grid and RailTel."
Shanker said since the mandate was to complete the project by the middle of 2014, the simultaneous process has already started for its actual execution.
"We have also started floating tenders under four broad categories - optical fibre cable and accessories, ducts, electronic equipment, and trenching and laying. For cables, we have received applications from 12-13 manufacturers. We wish to finalise this aspect this month itself," he said.
"We will float the tenders for electronics equipment later this month or early next month, while ducting, as also trenching and laying of cables, will be executed by the three companies in their respective areas allotted to them."
Bharat Broadband was set up as a special vehicle in February last year for overseeing the National Optical Fibre Network project using what is called the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
The fund gets its money from telecom operators who mandatorily have to contribute a portion of their revenues towards rural telephony. As per official estimates, Rs.27,949.91 crore ($4.7 billion) is the current balance in the fund.
In the National Telecom Policy of 2012, a mandate was given for affordable and reliable broadband on demand by 2015, with a target of 175 million connections by 2017 and 600 million by 2020. This was at a minimum speed of mbps, with higher bandwidth of up to 100 mbps on demand.