In a significant move towards achieving the vision of Digital India, the Union Cabinet recently approved an allotment of ₹1,39,579 crore for the next phase of Bharat Net. This ambitious project aims to make 5G network available to remote areas of the country, providing broadband connectivity to all village panchayats. The Bharat Net Project, formerly known as the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), is a crucial step towards ensuring affordable and accessible internet services in rural India.
The Bharat Net Project was launched in October 2011 as the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) and later renamed Bharat Net in 2015. The primary objective of this ambitious project is to provide broadband connectivity to all village panchayats across the country. It aims to offer affordable internet access with speeds ranging from 2 Mbps to 20 Mbps to households and on-demand capacity to institutions, thus realizing the vision of Digital India. The project envisions the delivery of e-governance, e-health, e-education, e-banking, and other essential services to rural India.
To achieve its goals, Bharat Net leverages the existing fibre infrastructure of Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) such as BSNL, Railtel, and Power Grid. Incremental fibre is laid wherever necessary to connect Gram Panchayats. This collaborative approach involves partnerships with States and the private sector to enhance the reach and effectiveness of the project. Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) established in 2012 under the Indian Companies Act 1956, is responsible for executing the project.
The Bharat Net Project is entirely funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). The USOF is a government fund created to provide financial support for the expansion of telecommunications and broadband services in rural and remote areas of the country. Its primary aim is to bridge the digital divide and ensure that telecom and internet services are accessible to all, especially in regions where private operators may find it economically unviable to operate due to high infrastructure costs and low population density.
The USOF is financed through a levy on the revenue earned by telecom operators. This levy, known as the Universal Service Levy (USL), is a percentage of the telecom companies’ Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR). The government collects this levy, which is then deposited into the USOF. The funds from the USOF are utilized to support projects like Bharat Net, which facilitate the expansion of telecom and broadband services in remote and underserved areas of the country.
The Bharat Net Project plays a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide between urban and rural India. By providing high-speed internet connectivity to remote areas, the project enables people in rural regions to access online services, information, and opportunities that were previously limited to urban centers. It also facilitates the delivery of critical e-governance, healthcare, education, and banking services, improving the overall quality of life for rural communities.