BSNL is installing satellite-based village public telephones in the interior, tribal villages and hamlets in the eastern ghats of Visakhapatnam district.

Private telecom operators are not ready go to the interiors, even though they are obliged to connect the villages under the universal service obligation clause. Instead, private operators have chosen to pay the penalty to the telecom department, clearing the way for BSNL.

According to P. Nagaraju, Senior General Manager of Visakhapatnam telecom district, it is by no means easy to provide telephone services in remote villages, given the nature of the hilly terrain, but BSNL is willing to do it. Out of the 1,800 villages that were to be covered, BSNL has been able to provide telephone connectivity either through WLL or GSM to 400 villages. Further, there is little or no demand for phones in some of these villages and they are inaccessible.

To provide telephone facility in 51 such villages, BSNL proposes to install village public phone terminals (VPTs) using digital satellite phone terminal (DSPT) technology. BSNL has been able to identify custodian-cum-phone booth operators in 27 of these villages, and is seeking expression of interest from customers in the other 24 villages. The project is being funded from the USO Fund of the DoT. It will cover both the capital cost as well as the cost of subsidised telephone tariff.

These devices are compact and require little storage and use low power. In the North-East, these are solar powered, but BSNL provides long-discharge batteries which can be recharged using electricity. These non-portable phones are locked to a location, and will be monitored by the BSNL Telecom district.

Internet and video

The DSPTs can also be used to provide internet and video. At present, only voice is being enabled and once the traffic grows and there is demand, data and video services will be provided on the instrument, BSNL General Manager (Consumer Mobility), R.M.M. Krishna, has said. Since these are being installed as VPTs, the tariff is only Re 1 a unit. The operator or custodian of the instrument gets 50 per cent of the bill amount as incentive, according to Nagaraju.

While a satellite telephone call costs around Rs 50 a minute, it is being offered at a subsidised rate to improve the telephone density . If the traffic grows sufficiently, then the DoT will explore the possibility of introducing mass coverage system like WLL and or GSM. Then fresh tenders will be called for and all operators asked to bid, Nagaraju added.

sarma.rs@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 9, 2012)
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