NEW DELHI: The government’s ambitious National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), seeking to provide video, data, internet, telephone services to all the 2,50,000 gram panchayats (GPs) in the country by March 2016 has all but come a cropper.
Three public sector undertakings, the Maharatna Powergrid Corporation of Indian Limited, the Miniratna RailTel Corporation of India Limited and the loss-making BSNL were drafted to put the NOFN in place. A special purpose vehicle called the Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) was created in February 2012 by the erstwhile UPA government to carry out the ambitious project but, as per latest data, all the three PSUs have performed dismally.
The cost of the project originally was `20,000 crore. This has already been revised to `28,000 crore. Interestingly, BBNL had copied the entire project from the Australian Broadband Project, which itself has proven to be a failure with cost escalating from $42 billion to over $90 billion and no targets yet delivered.
The rationale to draft the three PSUs was their established infrastructure that would have helped in the expeditious laying of cables on their existing networks. As per its own estimates, the BBNL set up by the Government of India for the establishment, management and operation of NOFN, in 2015 has found that at the present rate of progress, it will be able to add barely 20,000 km of cables and provide connectivity to barely 10,000-15,000 gram panchayats against the target of 59,000 gram panchayats by March 2015.
In a letter dated January 5, 2015, Director, Planning of BBNL, has said to officials of the three PSUs involved: “With the current rate of progress, we may be able to achieve around another 20,000 km of cable work up to 31st March 2015. This rate of progress may ultimately provide connectivity to around 10,000 to 15,000 GPs only against the target of 59,000 GPs promised by CPSUs. The present rate of progress needs to be scaled up to multiple times in the next 13 weeks to meet the target of Phase 1 (59,000 GPs) as promised by CPSUs.”
RailTel Corporation was given 11 states and Union Territories to carry out the NOFN project. These include Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura and the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, and Puducherry.
In Gujarat, RailTel’s performance has been dismal. Of the 5,000 gram panchayats assigned, in Phase I, it has achieved just 3.27 per cent of its target or laid cables for just 327 km instead of the scheduled 10,000 km. Interestingly, RailTel is carrying out its NOFN operations from Mumbai instead of Gujarat, leaving the decision-making process long-drawn and circuitous.
Similarly BSNL, which has been assigned 408 districts in 16 states, is also making little progress. In Phase 1, it has only achieved 10 per cent of its ducting target of 15,935 km and 6 per cent of its cabling target of 9,910 km.
One of the primary reasons why BSNL was drafted in was to pull the nation’s telecommunication behemoth out of the red. Till the September quarter, BSNL had incurred a loss of `3,785 crore mainly on account of declining revenues and increase in expenditure.
Similarly, PGCIL, which has been given five states and 37 districts covering 14,279 gram panchayats to cover, has only achieved 6 per cent of 2,424 km of ducting and 10 per cent of 248 km of optical fibre cabling.
What is NOFN?
In October 2011, the government had approved the setting up of a National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) to provide connectivity to all the 2,50,000 gram panchayats in the country. This would have ensured broadband connectivity with adequate bandwidth, and was to be achieved by extending the existing optical fibre to the Gram Panchayats.
What is BBNL?
Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) set up by the Government of India for the establishment, management and operation of NOFN.
How will NOFN benefit people?
NOFN will provide people with video, data, Internet and telephone services in areas such as education, business, entertainment, environment, health households and e-governance.