Government’s ambitious plan to connect every gram panchayat (local self-government in villages) with high speed broadband has a new deadline—December 2018, which is three years past the initial dateline.
As on September 2015, latest public data reveals around 6,703 gram panchayats have optic fibre cable connectivity. However, only 3,200 of them have the connectivity in full operational mode.
This serves poorly against the initial target of Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL) connecting 150,000 village councils by December 2015.
"It is a delayed project. The deadlines have been constantly shifted," Arpita Pal Agarwal, leader of Telecom Industry Practice at PwC India, said. "Our broadband infrastructure is woefully inadequate and citizens should have seamless experience of accessing broadband. Otherwise it is just a check in the box."
BBNL is the agency that is building the optical fibre network to connect over 2,50,000 gram panchayats and touch over 600 million rural Indians under the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project or popularly called the BharatNet project. The aim is to provide 2-20 Mbps bandwidth to individual houses.
The new deadline has been finalised after two months of brainstorming shepherded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Individual ministries and departments have identified targets that need to be implemented as part of the government's plan to grow the economy at a higher rate.
BBNL uses the infrastructure of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, RailTel Corp. of India Ltd and Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd to provide broadband connectivity to these gram panchayats and help villagers’ get e-governance services at their place. The broadband network could also be used to offer entertainment services to the population.
India defines internet speeds of over 512 Kbps as broadband, among the slowest in the world. It has around 140 million broadband subscribers, of which 123 million are mobile internet users.
The telecom ministry's plan to reach 175 million broadband connections by 2017 is however achievable, due to the launch of 4G mobile services by telecom firms and the impending launch of 4G services by Reliance Jio. Telecom firms are witnessing a surge in mobile data consumption on the back of video and growing usage of smart phones by consumers.