After almost a year since the Department of Telecom signed memorandum of understanding (MoUs) with private telecom operators to use BharatNet broadband services to provide last-mile connectivity, the Digital Communications Commission (DCC, Telecom Commission) on Thursday decided to auction the fibres to private operators.

MoUs were signed with players including Airtel, RJio and Vodafone-Idea (then separate companies). The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) has been asked to work out all the options – including various leasing options and outright sale, the official said. But, in-principle, the idea is to encourage handing over to private players, making sure of utilisation, the official said.

On November 13, 2017, at a National Conference on BharatNet and its utilisation with States, Reliance Jio paid an advance usage charge of ₹13 crore, Airtel paid ₹5 crore, and Vodafone and Idea paid ₹11 lakh and ₹5 lakh, respectively, to the DoT. “What had been sought from the Commission was in-principle approved…subsequently the actual details will be worked out at the earliest. The idea was that out of the 24 fibres (pairs), four will be retained by BBNL as a non-discriminatory, but remaining 20 will be sold to private operators through auctions,” the official said.

There are 2.50 lakh km of fibres and after discussion, it was decided that the DoT must pursue this in all seriousness because this is a costly asset that’s been created, the official said.

The DCC deferred a decision on cumulative penalty of ₹3,050 crore on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea (for allegedly denying interconnectivity to RJio) to its next meeting.

The Commission has asked BSNL and MTNL to explain their turnaround strategy and give an assurance on higher revenue for getting financial support. It is also working on a VRS for BSNL and MTNL, which will have a revenue impact of ₹6,365 crore and ₹2,120 crore, respectively.