India is charting a grand scheme targeting its rural outback to reach telecom and broadband services to each of its 626,000 villages, using funds to the tune of $3.5 billion lying unutilised in a dedicated fund.
Outlining the contours of this ambitious programme, Minister of State for Communications and IT Sachin Pilot told IANS in an interaction that 11,000 communication towers will be set up for the purpose - several in villages bordering Bangladesh and Pakistan.
“We are close to launching a programme of putting up these towers in villages where the population is less than 500 people and sometimes less than 200. It will be deployed by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd,” said the minister.
“You will hear more on this very soon.” He said all service providers - private or state-run - have been allowed to install telecom towers to receive signals within 500 metres near the international borders to strengthen the existing communication system in rural areas.
“This will also check interference from foreign telecom networks.”
According to Mr. Pilot, many of the towers will be in the tribal belts of Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Assam in the northeast, as the government's priority, as opposed to that of private players, was to get villages into the telecom loop as well.
“Private operators go where the money is,” he said, adding the finance will come from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) that is collected by the government from private players to meet the demands of rural connectivity.
Around Rs.17,000 crore ($3.5 billion) is lying in the fund, and experts believe this is enough to connect not just every district but also all of India's development blocks with fibre-optic cable and towers for high-speed communications.
Mr. Pilot, who is an alumnus of the Wharton Business School and St. Stephen's College here, says communications will be a great unifier and bridge the digital divide so that the “other India” in the hinterland also has access to high-speed data and telecom.
“We want to make our country much more wired than it is today. That's a very good way of getting people together. That's why we have to leverage these opportunities before us.”