The Narendra Modi-led government could merge two key broadband ventures into a jumbo Rs 60,000-crore project to speed up delivery of high-speed internet and government services to the common man under the ambitious Digital India drive. It is weighing the pros and cons of mandating Bharat Broadband Networks (BBNL) to implement the national broadband and government-to-citizen e-services projects as a single venture on a turnkey basis, said, a telecom official.
Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is learnt to have sought the views of DoT and its rural network infrastructure financing arm, the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF), on a potential roadmap, including cost structures, of mandating BBNL to build both the national optic fibre network, and also leverage it to deliver e-services across rural India.
At present, BBNL has a national long distance operator (NLDO) permit and will be the prime wholesale bandwidth supplier for the national broadband project. It remains to be seen whether the government will broaden BBNL's role, by also arming it with a suitable permit to provide broadband services down to the retail consumer level in the rural hinterlands.
The Rs 20,100 crore national broadband network will serve as a countrywide optic-fibre pipe to provide high-speed internet connectivity across rural India while the Rs 30,000-crore-plus wifi-based e-services project aims to create a commercial ecosystem to recover the costs of building such rural broadband infrastructure. Since the national broadband project is likely to see a 40% cost-escalation to nearly Rs 28,000 crore, the combined capex and opex cost of executing both projects is internally envisaged at roughly Rs 60,000 crore by DoT.