More media in India are picking up on the importance of what we’ve learned about BharatNet.
Voice and Data used information from the BharatNet study for a piece published on April 06, 2017.
BharatNet (formally the National Optic Fibre Network) was meant to provide broadband internet to rural villages in India. While the existing network itself has issues, last-mile connectivity has been completely missed. LIRNEasia went in to look at the potential role of institutions to fill the gap, and found a serious lack of awareness and no significant middle-mile connections.
Samarajiva elaborates, “All the government’s energy was absorbed by just the laying of the fiber cables through the possibly dysfunctional special purpose vehicle made up of government organizations. Little effort was put into providing clarity and assurances about the terms of access to the BharatNet cables. Without certainty about terms of access including prices and reliability, no private operators expressed any interest in using the government-built cables. LIRNEasia research conducted in pilot localities in Rajasthan and Andhra showed forlorn cable termination points in Gram Panchayat premises.”
LIRNEasia recommendations as expressed to the writer by Rohan Samarajiva:
The solution is to focus on the private sector and on competition in the last mile. First, the terms and conditions of access to the BharatNet middle mile must be worked up in the form of legal documents in consultation with potential users. “Answers to questions such as: Who do we talk to when the link breaks? What priority do our maintenance requests receive? And what assurance of service quality is offered? must be given,” he says. The prices should cover only operational costs since the capital costs have been borne by Universal Service Obligation Fund. Surveys should be conducted in the villages to document the existing demand at various price points and the results made available to private operators.
Even after all this, if the existing operators drag their feet, specialized entities should be invited to bid to provide last-mile services in non- or under-served rural areas as resellers, with the door kept open for full licenses based on performance.