Budget 2019: BharatNet to be speeded up

The Centre's ambitious BharatNet program is being speeded up with moves afoot to target internet availability in every panchayat or 'village block in the country,' finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Friday, in the course of her Budget2019 speech.

The FM said the government would dip into the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) corpus to enable BharatNet to boost rural broadband penetration through the public, private partnership (PPP) model to bridge the digital divide.

The USOF is an independent body within the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that subsidises telecoms infrastructure development across rural India.

BharaNet, a digital connectivity initiative originally launched under UPA-II government in 2011, aims to connect 2.5 lakh village blocks encompassing more than 6 lakh villages for the seamless delivery of citizen-centric services.

Since then, the prestigious program has missed several deadlines with cost escalation to Rs 70,000 crore and has been renamed to BharatNet from erstwhile National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government in 2015.

The government has connected 1.19 lakh village blocks in the first phase of its BharatNet program.