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Centre approves USOF scheme for mobile networks in uncovered villages in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, undersea fibre optic link to Lakshadweep islands

The provision of USOF passed by the Union Cabinet would bring mobile coverage to 2374 uncovered villages—1683 in Arunachal Pradesh and 691 in two districts of Assam

The Indian government on Wednesday sanctioned the provision of a universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) scheme, paving the way for providing mobile coverage in a large number of uncovered villages in Arunachal Pradesh and in two districts of Assam. The Union Cabinet took the decision under the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP) for the North Eastern Region (NER).

As per the project, about 2374 uncovered villages—1683 in Arunachal Pradesh and 691 in two districts of Assam, namely Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao—would be getting mobile coverage. The implementation cost of the project is pegged at about Rs 2,029 crore, including operational expenses for five years, as per an official release. The project will be financed by USOF, and the deadline for the project completion is December 2022.

The USOF envisions providing widespread and non-discriminatory access to quality ICT services at affordable prices to people in rural and remote areas. It acts as an effective and powerful linkage to the hinterland thereby mainstreaming the population of rural and remote parts of the country. The Fund also ensures in providing universal service in an economically efficient manner.

Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took to Twitter to express his gratitude to PM Modi and the Cabinet for the approval for the provision of a Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) Scheme.

Approval of USOF scheme would unlock new opportunities for hitherto uncovered areas

The work related to the deployment of 4G mobile services in identified uncovered villages will be awarded through an open competitive bidding process as per existing USOF procedures. The provision of mobile services in remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, will strengthen digital connectivity important for self-reliance, facilitate learning, dissemination of information and knowledge, skill upgradation and development, disaster management, e-governance initiatives, the establishment of enterprises and e-commerce facilities.

The advent of mobile services would provide support to educational institutes for knowledge sharing and enhance job opportunities, fulfilling the vision of Digital India, promoting domestic manufacturing and accomplishing the objective of self-reliant India(Atmanirbhar Bharat).

Undersea fibre optic cable link with Lakshadweep approved

The union government also approved an undersea optical fibre cable link to connect 11 islands of Lakshadweep with Kochi in mainland India under the USOF scheme. The project will cost an estimated amount of ₹1,072 crore, including operational expenses for five years. The Lakshadweep-Kochi project was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Independence Day this year. In August, PM Modi inaugurated India’s first undersea cable line between Chennai and Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The 11 islands of Lakshadweep that will be linked with Kochi using the undersea fibre cable are Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Agati, Amini, Androth, Minicoy, Bangaram, Bitra, Chetlat, Kiltan and Kadmat. The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) funded project will be be executed by state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) will execute the project. Telecommunications Consultant India Ltd (TCIL) has been appointed as the technical consultant for the project that will assist USOF.

Internet speeds of up to 400 gigabyte (Gb) per second will be provided at Port Blair and 200 Gb per second for other islands. Presently only medium of providing telecom connectivity to Lakshadweep is through satellites, but the bandwidth available is limited to 1 Gbps. Lack of bandwidth is a major constraint in providing data services, which is a pre-requisite for providing e-governance, e-education, e-banking etc. for inclusive growth of society.

The ownership of the asset under the project will rest with USOF, the funding agency, under DoT, a statement issued by the Ministry of Communications said.

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