The merger between Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Bharat Broadband Network Ltd is nearing completion.

A top BSNL executive told businessline that the public sector unit has already transferred BBNL employees into BSNL. “The merger is complete for all practical purposes, BSNL has already taken over maintenance and operations of BBNL. Only a skeletal team remains with the corporate handling past business,” . According to the source, BSNL has already started utilising the fiber network laid out under the BharatNet project to provide rural connectivity and expect to tap into the network to double their broadband connectivity by the end of this year to 50 lakh subscriber.  

Rural broadband connectivity

Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) is a telecom infrastructure provider set up by the Government in 2012 to provide rural broadband connectivity to every gram panchayat. BBNL operates the fiber connectivity project called BharatNet. While BBNL claims that nearly 2.5 lakh gram panchayats have been covered under the optic fiber project and nearly ₹42,000 crore has been spend on the network— the project continued to give poor returns.

In July, the Prime Minister approved the merger of the two PSUs, BSNL and BBNL. Apart from this, the Government also approved a package of ₹1.64 lakh crore for the revival of BSNL. Therefore, BSNL will now be managing and operating the 5 lakh km fiber network of BharatNet, in addition to their homegrown 8lakh km fiber network already deployed.

While the industry claims that the quality of the network laid under BharatNet is extremely poor, leading to its under-utilisation, the management at BSNL notes that the project will enable the PSU to provide broadband connectivity to rural areas. The executive notes that BSNL has already started utilising the fiber network. 

Public-private partnership

As per businessline’s most recent report on the status of BharatNet, in the 2020-21 fiscal year, the network only drew a profit of ₹1.46 crore indicating poor utilisation. Last year, the Centre had greenlit another package of ₹19,000 crore to privatise the network under a public-private partnership with system integrators like STL and HFCL being prospective bidders. The tender saw no takers and was supposed to be reintroduced by September this year. However the new tender has not been released yet. 

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