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Slow speed, powerless network push BharatNet users to Reliance Jio

Kiran Rathee

The government's showpiece project related to Digital India - BharatNet - which aims at connecting 2.5 lakh gram panchayats with wired broadband connectivity at 100 Mbps speed - isn't working as per the plan so far.

FE recently visited Dhanauri Kalan panchayat in Gautam Budh district in Uttar Pradesh, which has been earmarked as a Digital Village inaugurated by communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last year, but the services did not look encouraging.

Although the panchayat was connected with optical fibre in 2016-end under the phase-I of the BharatNet project, 100 Mbps speed is still not available to consumers in Dhanauri Kalan.

The only Common Service Centre (CSC) at the panchayat, which provides home broadband connections as well as acts as a centre where citizens can access Internet on computers for their various needs like taking printouts or applying online for various schemes, is also facing peculiar problems.

The Internet remains down for several hours for days due to some cable cuts which happens quite frequently. The cables and Internet are provided and maintained by BSNL. The problem emanates as BSNL is facing cash crunch because of its financial problems. Villagers said that in the event of power cuts the BSNL exchange often does not have the money to buy diesel to run the gensets as a result during such hours Internet is totally down. A village-level entrepreneur (VLE) who runs the CSC told FE that they provided 6-7 fibre-to-home (FTTH) connections in the village few months ago but people have stopped paying the monthly charges as the Internet remains down for many days together. He said that the speed is only 2 Mpbs, which is much lower than what is being provided by Reliance Jio's mobile services. This has led subscribers to ditch the BharatNet broadband connections and move on to Rjio's mobile broadband.

The VLE said he used to do business of about Rs 5,000 every month through FTTH and offering wi-fi services, but now the income is zero. Queries sent to Bharat Broadband Network Ltd and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd regarding low speeds and downtime on network remain unanswered despite FE waiting for them to reply for around a week.