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BSNL extends BharatNet phase-III tender deadline to June 28

Bharat Sanchar Nigam has postponed the deadline to submit bids for the fifth time for the Rs 65,000 crore BharatNet phase-III tender. The last date for submission is now June 28, with bids to be opened on July 1.

The PSU rolled out the tender in February, with April 2 set as the deadline to receive the bids. However, the process has since moved at a slow pace, owing to multiple changes in the tender after industry consultations and clarifications issued to the stakeholders.

The tender is part of the Rs 1.4-trillion revamped BharatNet project for design, supply, construction, installation of optical fibre cables, switches, routers and other telecom equipment. The plan is to connect and upgrade existing 164,000 gram panchayats, as well as connect around 47,000 gram panchayats under the new model.

BSNL is the single project management agency of the BharatNet programme. The telecom operator will be paid 1.25% of the basic capital expenditure and operating expenses as charges.

Officials in the know said the slow progress is because the tender is complex to roll it out in haste. “We have made over 100 changes in the tender conditions, relaxed eligibility conditions for small players to submit bids, issued clarifications on structure to participate in consortium, among key things, after industry consultations,” a BSNL official said.

In about 4,400 queries, several companies also sought relaxation on the financial eligibility, reduction in penalties, guidelines on trusted sources certification, domestic value addition, among other requests. “Wherever it was possible to accommodate the industry request, we have relaxed the terms and even issued multiple clarifications,” the official said. The process of issuing clarifications is mostly complete and now the wait is for the companies to submit the bids, the official added.

The tender will open up an additional revenue stream for companies like Nokia, Ericsson, HFCL, STL, TCS, Tejas Networks, and local telecom equipment players.

As per the original timeline, the tendering and award of work was to be completed five months after approval of the BharatNet Phase-III project, which happened in August 2023. After the award of work, the plan involved signing a master service agreement, and the completion of construction of the project in 36 months after that.

BharatNet Phase-III involves a three-level architecture — internet leased line bandwidth to be provided by BSNL at 7,269 blocks; middle-mile connectivity (block to gram panchayat) that will require private players to operate and maintain the project for 10 years; and last-mile connectivity (village to household) which is the Udyami model.

BSNL has invited bids across 16 states and UTs, including Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Puducherry, Bihar, West Bengal, Punjab, Haryana and Kerala.

As per the updated tender document, the financial turnover and net worth of the companies participating in the tender has been relaxed by up to 33% and 30%, respectively.

The government will involve village-level entrepreneurs, or Udyamis, to take fibre connections to homes on a 50:50 revenue sharing basis. These Udyamis will also be given a one-time financial incentive between Rs 8,900 and Rs 12,900 per fibre-to-home (FTTH) connection under the project.

In August last year, the Union Cabinet had approved the third such package of Rs 1.39 trillion for BharatNet, taking the total allocation to over Rs 2 trillion so far. As of April 1, a total of 211,661 gram panchayats were service ready, according to government data. Financial Express

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