Cabinet has approved an outlay of ₹1.39 lakh crore for BharatNet, the government’s project for last-mile connectivity across 6.4 lakh villages in the country.

According to government sources, the Cabinet, in its meeting on Friday late evening, had approved the latest round of funds for the project. Giving the latest updates on the ongoing project, sources said around 1.94 lakh villages have been connected at present and rest of the villages are expected to be connected in the next 2.5 years. “Cabinet has approved ₹1,39,579 crore fund for providing last-mile optical fibre-based connectivity to homes in all the villages of the country. We have decided to scale it up in a significant way,” the official said.

BharatNet is one of the biggest rural telecom projects in the world, implemented in a phased manner to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats (GPs) in the country for last-mile broadband connectivity.

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The project was first approved by the Cabinet in October 2011 and is being executed by Bharat Broadband Network (BBNL), as a special purpose vehicle (SPV). Phase-II was approved in 2017 and funding for the project in both phases has been ₹42,068 crore (exclusive of GST, Octroi and local taxes).

Tie-up with VLEs

BBNL, which is an arm of State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) now, will be partnering with village level entrepreneurs (VLEs) to provide the connectivity. “The model to take fibre to the home with the help of a local entrepreneur was finalised after successful completion of a pilot project. The pilot project was initially carried out to connect villages in four districts and then expanded to 60,000 villages across in most of the States,” the official said.

The official said around 3,800 entrepreneurs were involved in the pilot project that was carried out for 60,000 villages that provided 3.51 lakh broadband connections. According to them, average data consumption per household has been recorded to the tune of 175 gigabyte per month.

The project is being rolled out on 50 per cent revenue share between BBNL and VLE and the monthly broadband plan price starts from ₹399 and goes up to ₹799 with a minimum speed of 30mbps. There are 37 lakh route kilometers (rkm) of optical fibre cable (OFC) laid in the country out of which BBNL has laid 7.7 lakh rkm OFC, the official added.