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BBNL appoints private ISPs to bring internet services to gram panachayats

In a bid to make use of the already laid out optical fibre as part of the BharatNet project, Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) is roping in private internet service providers to bring internet services to users in gram panchayats.

A source told BusinessLine that BBNL has already signed around 100 such revenue-sharing agreements with ISPs. “The biggest challenge is ensuring adequate utilisation of the fibre once it is rolled out. The ISPs are being roped in under a revenue-sharing agreement so that they use the broadband network to offer services to their customers,” the source said.

The Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) had facilitated talks between BBNL and members of the association for this purpose. “Several members of our association have signed this agreement with BBNL, some have also commenced providing internet services,” an executive at ISPAI told BusinessLine.

Poor utilisation of BharatNet
BharatNet is a nationwide optical fibre project started by the government almost 11 years ago, with the aim of bringing high-speed internet connectivity to rural India. Despite a long time of incubation, the nearly ₹42,000 crore Capex and two iterations of this project already launched, the project has seen limited success. The government claims that over 1.72 lakh gram panchayats have been connected through this project. However, BusinessLine has reported previously that the project saw a net profit of only ₹1.46 crore in FY21. Clearly, there is limited utilisation of the government’s optical fibre project.

BBNL has also endeavoured to privatise the optical fibre network by roping in system integrators by offering them a public-private partnership. However, the tender saw no takers. BusinessLine has also reported that the Department of Telecommunication is revising the tender as a result.

New tender
Instead, DoT has indicated that it is willing to foot the entire capital expenditure and contract system integrators to maintain, rebuild, and service the network. In a bid to rope in private players to roll out the national optical fibre project, BharatNet, the Department of Telecommunication is looking to introduce a new model where private players will be given annual payments over a period of 20 years for constructing and maintaining the rural broadband connectivity infrastructure. Last-mile services using this infrastructure will likely be given out separately to interested private players with viability gap funding support from the Centre.

The ISPAI executive also told BusinessLine that, “BBNL is committed to improving the network and furthering partnerships with ISPs to provide rural connectivity.” The Hindu BusinessLine

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