India’s national broadband programme, BharatNet, has spent less than a third of the funds allocated to it since its inception in October 2011 the Economic Times writes, citing a Department of Telecommunications (DoT) response to a Right to Information Act request. The programme, originally dubbed the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) but rebranded to BharatNet in 2015 as part of the new government’s wider Digital India project, aims to roll out broadband connections to the country’s 250,000 gram panchayats (towns/villages). According to the DoT’s response, BharatNet had been disbursed a total of INR57.418 billion (USD859.9 million) from the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) between October 2011 and August 2016 out of INR20.100 billion approved by the government. Nevertheless, the total cost of the project is expected to exceed the higher figure, with a government panel recommending that the total budget be raised to INR72.000 billion to ensure that the project is completed on time.
The project was originally due to be completed by December 2013, but this was then pushed back to December 2017 before being postponed by a further year: Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha has commented that there ‘was no further room’ for relaxation regarding the new December 2018 deadline. The delays have been variously attributed to poor conceptualisation and coordination, right-of-way challenges, and problems in procuring equipment. By end-September 2016 the deployment had been completed in 9,203 panchayats across 21 states.