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Let private players power Bharat’s mega broadband dream: TRAI to Govt

PW Bureau 

The telecom regulator gave its suggestion on BharatNet following a high-level meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office last month to take stock of the mission New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended the government to put the assets of Bharat Broadband Network Ltd up for sale, allowing private entities to operate it. The state-run firm was formed six years ago with the objective to provide broadband network to rural India. India’s telecom regulator urged the department of telecommunications to put the assets being built under BharatNet mission on auction. TRAI gave its suggestion following a high-level meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office last month to take stock of the mission. It has long been in favour of a having public-private partnership model for the implementation of the scheme.

A waste of public money?

“Over Rs 17,000 crore has been spent already on BharatNet (and) no results can be seen. Public money has been wasted and it will become a serious problem for the government,” a senior official at TRAI said. “TRAI has suggested that government should auction BharatNet infrastructure on an ‘as is where is’ basis. The idea is that wherever infrastructure creation has not been completed, the private player can step in with the government’s support in form of viability gap funding, if needed, and complete it and maintain it for 20 years, market it and earn revenue,” the official cited above said. “It becomes a PPP (public-private partnership) model then. Your investment gets taken over. And the money required by the government to complete the infrastructure creation will come down.”

BharatNet mission

BharatNet, which was launched in 2012 by the United Progressive Alliance government, is a flagship mission to connect over 2 lakh gram panchayats with broadband. It was earlier called the National Optical Fibre Network.