India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is expected to invite bids from the country’s mobile network operators for the roll out infrastructure in Naxalite-Maoist areas of the country shortly, the Indian Economic Times reports. It is understood that the first phase of the government-led rollout project will aim for network deployments in districts identified by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa. The state, it is understood, has prioritised the extension of mobile coverage across the selected cities in the aforementioned regions as they have in recent years borne the brunt of Maoist strikes on mobile infrastructure.
The decision by the DoT to involve the country’s private operators follows state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd’s (BSNL’s) reluctance to participate in the project, which the telco reportedly feels is commercially unviable without subsidy; BSNL in effect opted out of the venture after the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) administrator rejected its plea for 100% subsidy support on a standalone basis. As the contracts for the rollout of services will be offered via a bidding process, winning bidders are expected to be eligible for a USOF subsidy, although the level of payout will be linked to mobile network architecture specified by the USOF administrator. The USOF is thought to be keen on optimising rollout costs to minimise the subsidy outflow, and it has been suggested that it does not want to spend significant amount on providing mobile coverage in densely forested and lightly-populated zones. According to the report there are currently 37,185 villages that are not covered by a mobile network.
Commenting on the development an unnamed DoT official was cited as saying: ‘The tender norms will be prepared in a way to induce mobile phone companies to roll out low-intensity networks in districts peopled by left wing extremists. Since [the] population is tiny in a majority of the identified villages, traditional macro cellular infrastructure will not be cost-effective.’