Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw announced at the Digital India Conference of State IT Ministers at the India Mobile Congress that the government has allocated Rs 26,000 crore for the installation of 25,000 mobile towers over the next 500 days. The government hopes to achieve this by providing last-mile internet connectivity to remote locations.

The state-owned Bharat Broadband Network Ltd, which was recently incorporated into the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, will carry out the project. The project’s costs would be borne by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), which had a balance of Rs 59,736 crore at the end of August. USOF is a fund set up by the government to provide internet connectivity to rural and remote areas.“The installation of new towers will largely support BSNL’s 4G rollout in the next 1.5 years,”

The state-owned telecom company is set to debut 4G services in November, with the goal of covering all of India with 4G within the next 18 months. Simultaneously, the business plans to launch 5G services by August 2023, as telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw recently said. “If this 25,000 is in addition to the BSNL rescue package announced recently, it is more harmful because it goes against the level playing field,” a telecom executive said, adding that BSNL was handed USOF-related rollout without going through the tendering procedure.

Currently, telecom operators pay a license fee of 8% of their adjusted gross income. 5% of this goes to the universal service obligation fund (USOF), with the remaining 3% going to the exchequer. As of August 31, approximately 47% of USOF remained unutilized, and telecom providers have asked the government to lower or eliminate the charge until the funds are fully used.

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