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DoT To Take Up Further Policy Reforms For High Digital Goals: Secretary

Department of Telecom (DoT) will undertake further reforms on the policy front to create ease of doing business in India. As part of that, it will also address the call drop menace, unveil a roadmap of digital readiness index and an initiative of ‘Fibre First’ while making strong efforts to stick to the BharatNet completion deadline of March 2019 in view of recent challenges, DoT secretary Aruna Sundararajan has said.

“Call drops have increased. We will have a meeting with the telcos and tower companies this month. We are also working on the digital readiness to know where we stand on the digtal front, and we will unveil Fibre First initiative to take fibre to the home, enterprises and key development institutions in Tier I, II and III towns and rural clusters. All these meetings will happen this month,” she told FC.

The government is keen to provide digital connectivity to everyone and has launched a passive programme under the new policy for fiberisation. It wants telcos to be part of the exercise in the booming market where data prices have hit rock bottom and hyper competition has bled the industry, leading to the consolidation. Asked about the possibility of holding spectrum auction in 2019, Sundarajan said DoT has an internal committee which will decide on the timing and whether any revision on spectrum prices is required.
“Once they give us the report, we will take it to the telecom commission and then to the cabinet for further action,” she said.

In the wake of two of its key implementing agencies fighting over who should take the blame for the poor operation and maintenance of the prime minister’s marquee project BharatNet, she said though as of now the deadline for its completion stands at March 2019, she would take a realistic view on this after reviewing the projects.

Asked if the project is going to meet the March 2019 deadline, Sundarajan said, “I will take a review and will give a considered view on that. But as of now, the deadline is March 2019. We are pushing first on the WiFi. We have just opened the bids to give the contracts.”

“We have tightened the PSUs over the BharatNet project issues. We have decided that utilisation should be pushed with the states, ministries and TSPs and with other stakeholders,” the secretary said.

Telecom minister Manoj Sinha, after the successful completion of Phase I of the BharatNet project in December 2017, had said the project to connect 1.5 lakh gram panchayats could be completed by December 2018, much before the actual official deadline of March 2019.

Asked on this, the DoT secretary said, “No, it can not be completed by December 2018.”

The DoT has set up an internal committee, comprising senior officials from the access services, spectrum management and licensing finance divisions, to prepare a road map for the next spectrum auction. The findings of the 5G forum, headed by Stanford University professor AK Paulraj, will also be taken into account. The committee is expected to submit its report to Sundararajan by December 2018. DoT sees the auction happening in later part of 2019.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has published its independent drive test (IDT) report in which it said, “Except Reliance Jio, all the other telecom operators have failed to meet the call drop in benchmark in test drive which was conducted by sector regulator TRAI on different highways and rail routes.”

The National Broadband Mission under the new policy aims to secure universal broadband access for implementation of broadband initiatives, to be funded through USOF and public private partnerships —BharatNet for providing 1 Gbps to gram panchayats upgradeable to 10 Gbps, GramNet for connecting all key rural development institutions with 10 Mbps upgradeable to 100 Mbps, NagarNet for establishing one million public Wi-Fi hotspots in urban areas, JanWiFi for establishing 2 million Wi-Fi hotspots in rural areas — and implementing a ‘Fibre First Initiative.’

The DoT is provisioning ‘last mile access’ and broadband services through public Wi-Fi access points or through any other suitable broadband technology at the gram panchayat level on a priority basis.

The objective of BharatNet is to connect 2,50,000 gram panchayats through optical fibre cable (OFC) or wirelessly in cases where OFC reach is not possible. The objective is to provide non-discriminatory access to all service providers who would then provision internet at every gram panchayats to ensure effective delivery of government programmes and also drive the economic growth at the gram panchayat level. The project has been divided into two phases -– covering 1 lakh gram panchayats in Phase I and 1.5 lakh gram panchayats in Phase II. The first phase of the BharatNet project, covering around 1 lakh gram panchayats, has already been completed and is available for utilisation. The second phase covering around 1.5 lakh gram panchayats is underway and scheduled to be completed by March 31, 2019.

As on November 12, 1.15 lakh gram panchayats have been made service ready. – Mydigitalfc

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