Report by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) correspondent
The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) is meant to fund digital connectivity in rural and remote areas. It has built up a reserve of over Rs 58,000 crore over the years. Telecom service providers pay 5% of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) towards the USOF.
So far BSNL has been the major telecom service provider to rural and remote areas and the only service provider to border areas. Now the government-controlled USOF has decided to ignore BSNL and award orders for connectivity programs in rural and remote areas to private telecom companies.
Last year, both Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio were awarded the Northeast – I and Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-II programs worth 1,255 crore and Rs 2,211 crore to deploy 1,511 and 2,542 sites within 18 months, but it is learnt that only a few surveys have been conducted so far.
Recently, the 4-G based connectivity program of Rs 6,466 crore in identified uncovered villages in the aspirational districts of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Odisha was awarded to the two private telecom operators. Thus the total value of projects awarded to the two private telecom companies is nearly Rs 12,850 crore while no order has been awarded to BSNL.
While awarding these orders national security concerns have been ignored as many of them are strategic locations.
Since private telecom operators procure all their equipment for foreign sources there is a great national security risk. Life of the equipment and unpredictability when a supporting nation becomes hostile over a period, are the areas of concern.
Bharti Airtel’s equipment supplier include multinational suppliers such as Nokia, Ericsson and Chinese Huawei. Jio’s equipment is procured exclusively from Korean Samsung.
Further, the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association (TEMA) confirmed that the licence conditions provided for rural and remote mobile coverage were not achieved by private telecom service operators.
BSNL chairman also wrote to the Department of Telecommunication to award connectivity programs in uncovered villages saying that it would allow public sector telecom company to deploy locally-designed and manufactured equipment in line with Atmanirbhar Bharat program.
It is one more instance of the government favouring private telecom operators at the cost of public sector BSNL.