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BBNL and Competition Neutral Broadband Funding

Getting Regulation Right Blog Aspect
Dr Archana Gulati
Published Oct 29, 2013
Updated Sep 03, 2023
The Economic Time reports that BBNL(NOFN) which is at present an infrastructure provider may acquire a unified license and become a service provider. This broadband network funded by USOF India was to provide OFC connectivity to 2.5 lakh village panchayats (local self government offices) up to block level as private operators were not likely to cater to this market segment. It is reported that, “The government is looking to “revise BBNL’s mandate” as it wants it to directly deliver high-speed broadband services down to the district level to maximise utilisation of NOFN infrastructure, which is the communications ministry’s biggest telecom venture. The immediate plan is use the NOFN resources to build a “government-user overlay network” — akin to a virtual private network — for delivering a host of citizen-centric e-services to bridge the digital divide across rural India. The DoT has proposed joint funding of the “proposed overlay network” by the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) and the ministry of rural development. It wants USOF to handle the entire upfront capex payout — pegged at Rs 3,750 crore — and the rural development ministry to handle opex over a 10-year span – estimated at about .`1,860 crore a year – putting the total cost at Rs crore, excluding taxes.” In my previous posts on National Broadband Plans and incumbent centric, public funded Broadband Networks I have highlighted the importance of competition and avoidance of market distortions or recreation of monopolies. I believe that if BBNL were to complete roll out and the government was to focus on            e-government services (applications), a host of private and public sector telecom service providers would step in to provide last mile connectivity for broadband enabled services on commercial considerations. In fact it has recently been reported that India has croseed the billion mark as far as e governance transactions go. Also that, “[w]ith more parts of the country getting connected through the National Optic Fibre Network, industry watchers expect more citizens to be accessing government services over the internet. … The network has been launched in pockets of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Tripura, with some 80,500 transactions already recorded.”