The companies paid the advance cheques to the government, which has kicked off phase-II of the BharatNet project with an outlay of ₹31,000 crore and a mandate to provide high-speed broadband to all 2.5 lakh panchayats by March 2019.
Reliance Jio paid the highest advance subscription fee of Rs 13 crore to provide broadband services at 30,000 gram panchayats, with a commitment to buy bandwidth in every panchayat from the government as it expands the project.
Communication Minister Manoj Sinha, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar and Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar Sushil Modi and IT ministers of different states launched this at a function in New Delhi.
Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan further asked state government to send list of unconnected villages in their jurisdiction so that all of them can be connected by 2020. DoT, in collaboration with service providers, plans to demonstrate various models that could possibly be adopted for these services.
Under Phase I, 1 lakh Global Positioning System or 3 lakh villages were connected. He expressed satisfaction that the Prime Minister's vision of Digital India is on the right track and Bharat Net is an integral part of that dream.
The Telecom Ministry will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with seven states - Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
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With optical fibre connectivity now available at 1 lakh gram panchayats under Phase I of the project, the Central government will sign MoUs with the states for staring BharatNet Phase II.
Sundararajan said the total project cost of BharatNet was around Rs 45,000 crore, of which Rs11,200 crore have been used for the first phase.
The National Optical Fibre Network was approved by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2011, and it was renamed to BharatNet and its progress was expedited by the current government. It will also generate employment of 100 million mandays during the project rollout.
With the subsidies, telecom operators can make use of the existing optic fibre connection to build Wi-Fi hotspots and deliver wireless internet service sooner in the villages without burdening the users with premium charges.
The last mile connectivity to citizens was proposed to be provided creating Wi-Fi hotspots in gram panchayats.