Stressing on the importance of connectivity as one of the pillars of digital growth in India, Aruna Sundararajan, Chairperson and Managing Director, Bharat Broadband Network, and also Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Communications and IT, said the government was working towards improving Internet access through the National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) project. He was speaking at the India Digital Summit. Aruna Sundararajan informed the gathering that by March 2015, Kerala will be the first state to benefit from it. Fifty-thousand gram panchayats will be Internet-connected by the end of 2015, which will add 200 million Internet users. Aruna Sundararajan said the government had set up a committee to monitor progress on the digital front. “The ability of the panchayats in terms of laying down fibres has been a major constraint towards optic fibre layout,” she said, adding: “Industry participation will be critical for broadband penetration.”
She said “It is expected that by December 2015 NOFN will complete 50,000 gram panchayats but further rollout of gram panchayats will depend on high level committee’s report. The committee will look into NOFN project and its utility by all stakeholders be it telcos, ISPs, cable TV operators, Wi-Fi operators, MVNOs and others so that voice and data connectivity can reach rural consumers.”
“To accelerate NOFN, the prime minister’s office (PMO) has instituted a high level committee to have a comprehensive look and suggest changes in the project. The committee will look into restructuring aspects of NOFN and will focus on network architecture, network design, business strategy, technology, business model and missing framework,” said Aruna Sundararajan during her address.
She expressed satisfaction on the fact that USOF is looking at companies other than PSUs (public sector units) and superior class construction industry players for further rollout of NOFN within the given time frame. Even USOF is working on business viability of NOFN so that it can benefit all stakeholders say telcos, government and end consumer.
She said: “First, USOF is looking at companies other than PSU say BSNL, RailTel and PGCIL for faster rollout of NOFN project for remaining 200,000 gram panchayats as there has been a considerable delay in rolling first 50,000 gram panchayats. Even NOFN can leverage private telcos OFC network as their fibers have already reached blocks and considerable no of gram panchayats. The collaboration with private operators will help in reduction of fiber laying cost and also reducing overall capex cost for NOFN.”
“The private operators can also use NOFN’s affordable backhaul bandwidth to extend their reach in rural India by installing new towers and providing voice and data connectivity to rural consumers. All this is a big win-win for both government as well as operators,” she added.
“Secondly, for the remaining 200,000 gram panchayats, NOFN will opt for superior class construction players so that the project can move forward at a faster pace. With the coming of bigger players, NOFN can be scaled in a big way to meet the project deadline and keep cost escalation under control. Presently, smaller companies are involved in NOFN project right from digging, trenching, backfilling, ducting and pulling fiber in the ducts. “
“Thirdly, USOF is planning to do one pilot in each state to be funded by USOF to know the kind of services which will be deployed in a particular state. In this regard, USOF is planning to come out with an expression of interest (EoI) in each state for last mile connectivity provider which will undertake business modeling, to be replicated across the state.”
“Fourth, USOF is planning applications like entertainment, e-education, e-commerce and egovernance through NOFN for rural consumers where all stakeholders are involved to increase the bandwidth utilization of NOFN and also making it a profitable venture.”
If all these changes are implemented by USOF and BBNL, NOFN will definitely help in meeting NTP 2012 targets, Sundararajan signed off.