Only 4,000 villages linked to optical fibre: Telecom secretary


Taru Bhatia | January 23, 2016 | New Delhi

Optical fibres network, under government’s NOFN (National Optical Fibre Network) programme, may have reached more than 45,000 villages, but only 4,000 villages are linked to it as of now, says, telecom secretary Rakesh Garg.

As per the programme, one lakh panchayats will be covered in phase one out of 2,50,000 total panchayats in the country. “The ducts have already reached more than 45,000 villages. Optical fibre has reached more than 37,000 villages but only 4,000 villages are linked. The number is very low,” said Garg, at a forum titled ‘connecting the unconnected’ organised by FICCI on Friday.
“We observed that wherever the connection has reached, villagers have started receiving government services. However, private sector is not keen in taking their service through fibre network,” he said.  
So far, up to 1.15 lakh km of optical fibres have been laid and the government aims to expand it to 1.70 lakh km by 2017 end. “None of the operators are willing to take fibre to places where it has no yet reached,” said the telecom secretary.
Adding further he said the government needs to think how to use cable network to take broadband to remote villages. “A policy is required to use cable network and the use of unlicensed bands should be increased,” he said.  
The fact has led to the formation of a committee to redesign the model in a way to encourage private sector’s participation in taking connection from district level to panchayat level. The committee has already come out with its report, it will be presented in the cabinet next month, Garg said.
Garg mentioned that not much work was done in laying of optical fibres in the period from 2011 to 2014. “From 2014 onwards, this government has taken forward the project, and today approximately 1.15 lakh km of optical fibres have already been laid,” said Garg.  
“In Kerala, Puducherry, Chandigarh optical fibres have been laid in all the panchayats. In Tripura, we are soon going to complete the task by this fiscal. In Karnataka, the progress is substantially ahead of other states as almost 70 to 80 percent of the state’s panchayats have received the fibre network. It will be completed by June or July,” Garg said. However, the government is not yet satisfied with the speed at which the programme is being implemented, he mentioned.
Spread of spectrum is the biggest challenge in front of the government, he added.
According to Garg, factors like technical issues, regulatory issues and business models have also delayed the project. 
“We need to find out if there is any problem with our business model or if there are changes required in the current model. The government is open to all experiments to address technical issues, permission issues faced by the operators. Now industry needs to come forward,” he said.     
During the event, Akhil Gupta, vice chairman, Bharti Airtel raised the issue of affordability and availability of spectrum. Replying to his questions, Garg said that the government has taken necessary steps to address these issues. The government has not held back any spectrum, moreover, in the recent past, the government has taken necessary steps like spectrum trading and spectrum sharing to support the telecom industry, Garg said.
“Spectrum harmonisation is now we are going forward to increase spectrum efficiency,” he further added. He also declared that the next spectrum auction will take place probably in June this year.



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