State-run BSNL is expecting to complete its portion of mobile network roll-out project, funded by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), in the North East by 2018-end.
"The project was approved in September 2014 but it came to BSNL in April 2016. BSNL is expecting to place execution order in April after which roll-out of the project will start in July and should be completed by December 2018," a source told PTI.
The project is part of the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for the North-Eastern Region (NER) which was approved by the Union Cabinet in September 2014 but is yet to be rolled out.
The project proposal entails an estimated expenditure of Rs. 5,336.18 crores which is to be funded from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
The project envisages providing 2G mobile coverage in identified uncovered areas and seamless mobile coverage along National Highways in the North-East region. Under this project 8,621 villages out of the 9,190 unconnected villages are to be covered by 6,673 towers.
The project has been divided into two parts where tough terrain, which includes two districts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, has been given to state-run telecom firm BSNL for installing about 2,100 mobile towers and the rest was kept for private telecom operators.
Bharat Broadband Network opened tender for installing about 4,500 towers under the project after two years in 2016 but received no bids.
"BSNL received bids from five companies but has not been able to finalise it because of external influences which are delaying the project. There have been multiple exchange of letter between the Department of Telecom and BSNL in this regard," an industry source said.
A BSNL official, involved in the project, denied the allegation saying that the process is running smoothly and communications with DoT and USOF have taken place for clarifications and more transparency.
"Technical bids were conducted but after discussion it has been decided to retest telecom equipment to generate more competition. The government wants to assure that fair opportunities have been given to bidders in fray. Retesting will be completed in March after which execution order will be placed to successful bidders in April," the official said.