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Broadband for Bharat

Rural India is all set to take a giant infotech leap forward. If all goes to plan, you may not have to worry about updating your status on the social networking site even if you are stuck in a non-descript village in the middle of nowhere, reports Gaurav Choudhury & Manoj Gairola.

business Updated: Jul 13, 2009 21:58 IST

Rural India is all set to take a giant infotech leap forward. If all goes to plan, you may not have to worry about updating your status on the social networking site even if you are stuck in a non-descript village in the middle of nowhere.

The government has drawn out a grand scheme to put nearly 5 lakh villages across the country on the high-speed wireless broadband map in the next five years.

The initial phase would cover about two lakh villages in 5,000 blocks.

In January, the government placed an order with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) under the USO fund scheme for providing 8.5 lakh rural broadband connections. "Under this scheme BSNL gets a subsidy of up to 40 per cent on computers," said a BSNL official, who did not wish to be quoted. This is besides the subsidy it gets on installing and maintaining the broadband connections. The government would continue this subsidy for wireless broadband.

Villages in blocks and talukas that already have necessary infrastructure such as tower and power would be identified for rolling out the network. There are two lakh such villages.

Bids would be invited from telecom service providers, and the successful ones would be given financial subsidy.

The subsidy will be provided from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) that is raised through a 5 per cent levy imposed on telecom operators' revenues. It is meant for supporting telecom services in rural areas. At present, USOF has a corpus of Rs 18,192 crore.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) has decided that primarily WiMAX technology would be used for wireless broadband connections. WiMAX enables broadband access at a download speed of up to 75 Mbps through wireless.

DoT has already awarded a contract to BSNL under USO fund scheme to install 7,800 towers in rural areas for providing broadband connections through WiMAX. "My priority is to provide world class telecom services to the masses across the country at competitive and affordable prices. We will accomplish universal coverage of both voice and broadband connectivity," said union communications minister A Raja. But what about the cost?

The government plans to subsidise even computer hardware for both individual subscribers as well as rural information technology kiosks (see graphic on page 21).

In recent months, the government has held discussions with telecom operators, Internet service providers, and others to formalise modalities of tender procedures, technology selection, and benchmark settings, the official said

"The kiosks shall have at least one Internet browsing enabled work station, a printer and a scanner," an official, who did not wish to be identified, said.

Among other things, the broadband network would connect all panchayats or elected council of village elders, across the country. This is aimed at dovetailing panchayats with the larger national e-governance initiative.

Out of about 2.5 lakh panchayats across the country, only 30,000 have been provided with broadband connectivity, so far.

For villages without power, the official said, the government favours financial subsidy to telecom providers for setting up solar, wind or diesel hybrid solutions to run broadband networks.