India changes tack and tenders for public-private partnerships to complete national broadband rollout

Tender issued to wire 361,000 thousand more villages, with $2.5bn subsidies dangled


India has issued tenders for a public-private partnership intended to connect another 361,000 villages to the nation's BharatNet fibre optic network.

BharatNet aims to connect all of India's villages to the internet, by connecting them to optic fibre and then providing Wi-Fi access points for locals to use. The network's design calls for it to tap commercial networks wherever possible and provide a "middle mile" service.

The project is funded with a universal service obligation (USO) levy paid by telcos, but to date private entities engaged to build the network have been paid a fee for service and then used the network as a retail service provider.

The revised tender [PDF] changes that plan, instead calling for bidders to design, build and operate new connections in return for a 30-year concession to charge for its use. As that charge will be made to the USO fund, India's government is not out of pocket.

The change of approach was designed as a post-COVID economic stimulus, with India's government tipping in US$2.5bn as an incentive to illuminate a path to profit for bidders.

This final tranche of BharatNet will, once installed, see all of India's 643,000 villages connected to the internet. With any luck, that will mean government digital services will finally become universally available, as all Indians enjoy affordable internet access. ®

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