Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance on Thursday expressed concern over poor infrastructure for digital economy in rural areas and raised questions over the large unspent money under Universal Service Obligations Fund (USOF) meant for boosting rural telephony.
The members, who heard representatives of the Telecom Department besides BSNL and MTNL on ‘transformation towards a digital economy’, also expressed concern over the call drop issue.
Officials of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology informed the committee members that all panchayats will be provided high-speed broadband by 2019 under the second phase of BharatNet project.
With the target of coverage also including gram panchayats in districts affected by Left Wing Extremism as also those in high mountains, members raised questions about the plans and capacity to execute the project according to the given timeline.
Some members said that the speed at which rural areas have been connected with high-speed broadband so far does not inspire much confidence about the future.
The officials also apprised the members of the progress made in the first phase of BharatNet project.
Informed sources said Biju Janata Dal member Bhartruhari Mahtab asked about the large amount of money unspent under the USOF, saying that Rs 75,000 crore had been levied over 14 years but only Rs 40,000 crore spent.
The sources said members also raised queries about the mechanism to meet the cost of Rs 942 crore for Wi-Fi hotspot in rural areas.
Bharatiya Janata Party member Rajiv Pratap Rudy is learnt to have raised the issue of call drops.
Members said that the government’s push for digital economy will not be successful without its spread in the rural areas.
They said that speed and spread of data services was poor in rural areas and infrastructure was not ready for digital economy.