Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have partnered with DoT to reach the last 43,000 villages living without cellular services, Cellular Operators Association of India director general Rajan Mathews said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants these villages connected within a year, Mathews said, along the lines of the last-mile connectivity achieved for cooking gas and electricity supply.
“Telcos didn’t go there earlier because the commercials don’t work. DoT is now coming up with a model where they will give 100% subsidy (for capital expenditure). Basically, the government will pay for it and telcos will set up the network and operate it,” Mathews added.
“The (DoT’s) intention is to also subsidize (network) operating costs for five years,” he said. After this period, the infrastructure will be handed over to the operator.
Under the model, the government will divide these 43,000 villages into three categories—easy-to-cover, medium difficulty, and hard-to-cover. After this, it will form pools comprising villages from each of these three categories. Telcos will then bid for these pools and will not be allowed to disaggregate the villages from the pools.
Whichever telco bids the lowest amount to provide connectivity to these pools will win the bid. The government is working on other modalities, including the total size of the project.
An email query to DoT did not elicit any response till press time.
So far, the government was dependent on state-run operator BSNL to reach these unconnected villages.
According to data from DoT, Odisha had 9,940 villages without mobile services, Maharashtra 6,117 and Madhya Pradesh 5,558. Other villages lacking mobile services are located in border areas, islands and the north-eastern states.
There were 505.59 million rural wireless subscribers in the country as of May end. The share of rural wireless subscribers in the overall wireless user base is 43.52%.
Inputs Taken From livemint