Mobile access scheme for remote areas soon

More than 55,000 villages will be covered under the plan.

The government will soon unveil a new scheme to provide mobile phone access to over 55,000 villages, particularly those in border states and in the Himalayan region, to push forward its flagship Digital India programme.

“We are formulating a scheme for making 56,000 villages connected. The scheme will be funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF),” a senior telecom ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

The USOF, which is maintained by the government, was formed to help fund projects to boost connectivity in rural areas. The money for this fund comes through a ‘Universal Access Levy,’ charged from the telecom operators as a percentage of various licenses fees being paid by them.

Fund disbursement

Last month, Telecom Secretary J.S. Deepak had said that about Rs.10,000 crore will be spent in the current financial year from the USO Fund to execute various digital infrastructure projects to boost connectivity in rural areas. In the last fiscal, about Rs.3,000 crore was spent from the USOF.

“Under the scheme, the villages have been divided into Himalayan regions such as Jammu and Kashmir, Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh; and the second set will be those states which share borders with other nations,” the official said.

The official added that another scheme — funded by the USOF — to connect Left wing extremism (LWE)-affected areas in ten identified states in on the “verge of completion.” “Together, these will help take forward the Digital India drive.”

As on date, the total available fund in USOF is more than Rs.47,411.56 crore. The total collection since the scheme was started in 2002-03 stands at about Rs.78,587.31 crore, while total amount disbursed for various initiatives to boost rural connectivity is about Rs.31,175.75 crore, according to government data.

No coverage

As per official data about 4,700 villages in Himalayan States (Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), and 2,138 villages in Border States (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana) are not yet connected.

Further, 5,41,939 villages out of total 5,97,608 villages in the country are already covered with mobile services, leaving 55,669 villages, i.e., 9.31 per cent, without coverage. Among states, Odisha has the highest number of villages (10,398) which do not have mobile coverage, followed by Jharkhand (5,949) and Madhya Pradesh (5,926), Maharashtra (4,792) and Chhattisgarh. In states such as Kerala and Karnataka all villages have coverage.

The Centre is also in middle of executing the Bharat Net project which aims to connect all of India’s households, particularly in rural areas, through broadband by 2017.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 7:58:03 PM |

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