|The telecom regulator has urged the government to speed up investment of about Rs. 2,300 crore to improve 2G, 3G and optical fibre cable (OFC) connectivity in the Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands on the grounds of national security. |
"In view of the strategic importance of these islands, a comprehensive capital investment of Rs 1,773 crore for Andaman & Nicobar and Rs 505 crore for Lakshadweep islands, as suggested by the authority, must be implemented without further delay to improve telecoms and broadband infrastructure," the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said in a March 23 letter to the telecom department (DoT). EThas seen a copy of this letter.
The regulator had originally recommended the capital investment for boosting telecom coverage on the islands nearly two years ago.
"Reliable telecommunications between these groups of islands from the Indian mainland is vital as they safeguard the country's eastern and western seaboards respectively, and are strategically vital from the point of security as they are closer to foreign countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Maldives than the Indian mainland," Trai said in its letter to DoT.
Trai suggested that the government tap into the Universal Services Obligation Fund to finance telecoms infrastructure on the islands.
USOF, an independent DoT arm funded by telecom operators, seeks to ensure connectivity in rural, remote or commercially unviable regions by subsidising telecom infrastructure.
Last month, DoT sought the regulator's views on satellite and OFC connectivity cost estimates for boosting coverage on the islands. Apart from the one-time capital investment, Trai urged DoT to "compensate the commercially non-viable telecom operations in these remote islands by arranging. Rs. 130 crore annual viability gap funding for five years".
In its communique to DoT, the regulator also suggested undersea optical fibre cable links connecting the islands with Chennai and Kolkata as a long-term solution.
In the interim, Trai urged DoT to "augment satellite bandwidth in these islands as a short-term solution, since execution of submarine cable systems will take at least 18-to-24 months, post-government approval". BSNL has pegged the total cost of augmenting satellite bandwidth and intra-island OFC networks in the Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands at roughly Rs. 85 crore.