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CSC’s to replace indigenously-developed equipment leaves rural connectivity in muddle

The low-quality equipment instead of the originally-approved and developed by state-owned technology innovation arm, and incremental fibre deployment under the CSC scheme, is impacting the BharataNet’s last-mile connectivity, a broader vision of Digital India program.

“Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology has been approved by the government’s technical committee after the general requirement (GR) test conducted by the Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC) but CSC has been deploying China-made equipment to meet stringent timelines and save cost,” a source told ETTelecom.

The Common Service Centres (CSC) scheme or Digital Seva Kendra is a mission-mode initiative under the Digital India umbrella program.

GPON that offers triple-play (voice, data and video) services to end-users, is indigenously designed and developed by the state-run Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).

Following the technology transfer, domestic companies have undertaken large-scale production of end-to-end homegrown equipment, which according to the person privy to the matter, has now been replaced with EPON or Ethernet Optical Network being imported into the country at a much cheaper price point, and supplied by multiple vendors.

Meanwhile, industry insiders recount the CSC Wi-Fi Choupal’s expression of interest (EOI) rolled out back in December 2019, which according to them flouted the Preference to Make in India (PMI) policy framework, to procure GPON or EPON optical line termination (OLT) equipment.

However, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has already spent more than Rs 13,000 crore on BharatNet – I infrastructure which is now manned by digital kendras (centres), which are also mandated to deploy incremental optic fibre despite the lack of relevant expertise.

People familiar with the matter, however, also said that a 24-pair fibre is being replaced with a four-paired cable by the CSC, which entered into a tripartite agreement with the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) and Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) in July 2019.

“Under the partnership, CSC would conduct first-line maintenance of equipment and ensure last-mile connectivity through Wi-Fi while a village-level entrepreneur (VLE), a private entity, has been made the custodian of the state-owned equipment.

BharatNet’s network is being 100% funded by the USOF, a Rs 52,000 crore strong reserve under the telecom department.

Queries to CSC chief executive and USOF administrator did not elicit any response.

In a letter dated March 31, to USOF chief Ansuli Arya, BBNL chairman said, “CSC should be asked to withdraw from the maintenance of incremental optic fibre cable which is not their core strength.”

Citing the Cabinet note, the DoT’s special purpose vehicle (SPV) said that it had the mandate to create, operate and maintain the national network, and have the expertise and trained manpower to undertake maintenance.

BharatNet is Centre’s ambitious initiative to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats or village blocks encompassing more than 6 lakh villages with the deadline revised to August 2021.

—Telecom Techie

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