The Indian government has proposed the allocation of funds totalling INR60 billion (USD836 million) for its ambitious BharatNet programme in the 2020 budget, the Economic Times reports. The BharatNet programme aims to deploy broadband services to 250,000 villages (gram panchayats) but has encountered numerous delays and by December 2019 only 130,000 villages had been connected, according to the IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. To encourage take-up of internet services, the minister added that the government was looking to offer free Wi-Fi in all villages connected by the BharatNet by March this year. Regarding the new funding for the project meanwhile, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman was quoted as saying: ‘Our vision is that all public institutions at gram panchayat level … will be provided with digital connectivity. Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections through BharatNet will link 100,000 gram panchayats this year.’
In a related development, the 2020 budget also includes an infusion of funds for loss-making state-owned telcos Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL). The pair are set to receive a combined total of over INR376 billion the lion’s share of which – INR204 billion – is for 4G spectrum, whilst a further INR132 billion has been earmarked for the telcos’ cost-cutting voluntary retirement scheme (VRS).