Reliance Jio to Lease Dark Fiber laid under BharatNet Initiative

BharatNet is a Centre-State collective project started under the UPA-II government in 2011. The objective was to create a network infrastructure that offers affordable broadband connectivity to all households. Though the project suffered a few setbacks, it once again came to the fore with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ initiative.

As per the ongoing talks with the government, Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Jio may become the first telecom operator in the country to lease fiber being deployed under the BharatNet project.

Implementation plan of BharatNet program

BharatNet project’s implementation plan designed earlier was divided into three phases:

  • The first phase was to offer broadband connectivity to one lakh gram panchayats by placing underground optic fiber cable (OFC) lines by March 2017.
  • The second phase planned to supply connectivity to the country’s 2.5 lakh gram panchayats using an efficient combination of underground fiber, radio and satellite media, and fiber over power lines. This was planned to be done by December 2018.
  • The third phase ranging from 2018 to 2023 included the establishment of a robust network.

How Reliance Jio plans to contribute?

BharatNet initiative is to be accomplished through collaboration between the States and the private sector. The project is currently in its first phase with over 2.1 lakh km of optic fiber cable being placed. Out of the total fiber laid under the project, the highest number of active gram panchayats have been achieved in the state of Karnataka with 4,735.

Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Jio is planning to lease dark optic fiber from the government through discussions with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). The company is currently analyzing business possibilities available in Haryana and Karnataka to utilize the unused fiber.

Given that the backhaul connectivity in Karnataka and Haryana is already in place, N. Sivasailam, Additional Secretary of DoT, confirmed that Reliance Jio has asked for an opportunity in these states.

N. Sivasailam informed that the price point to lease optic fiber differs according to the state; however, the minimum rests at around INR 2,000 per km. Furthermore, he also revealed that Reliance Jio wishes to take the fiber to mobile towers. The company is conducting a feasibility review of different sites in these two states to determine the best business points, he added.

Suggestions for BharatNet initiative

N. Sivasailam suggested the implementation of optical line terminal (OLT) by telecom service providers at a block level and facilitation of digital connectivity by the DoT to link local businessmen and small enterprises.

A panel consisting of experts from the Information Technology (IT) sector had previously recommended reserving 50 percent pairs of dark fiber at gram panchayats for telecom service providers, local cable operators, multi-system operators, and Internet service providers. This would help secure bandwidth with the means of infrastructure established through government investment.

Summary

Reliance Jio is in talks to become the first telecom operator in the country to lease unused or dark fiber laid by the government under the BharatNet program.

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