State-owned Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) has completed a pilot project to provide internet services through satellite in hilly and inaccessible areas in Arunachal Pradesh. A senior Telecom Ministry official said the pilot project is now likely to be taken up in other states of the Northeast.

A decision on commercial rollout of the project and pricing of the package to the customer is likely to be taken after the completion of the pilot project, the official said.

“The cost is likely to be very reasonable given the government’s drive to increase Internet access to as many people as possible. Revenue shortfalls for executive agencies, both government and private, are covered by the USOF (Universal Service Obligation Fund) likely to go.

USOF, which is an extension of Universal Access Levy (UAL), applies to all telecom license holders. This took effect on 1 April 2002 and required all telecommunications service providers to contribute a percentage of their revenue to the USOF. Of the 8 percent adjusted gross revenue, 5 percent goes to the USOF, the rest to the central treasury.

Presently the USOF is around Rs 60,000 crore.

BBNL, the executive agency of BharatNet, plans to provide satellite-based internet connectivity to 7,000 gram panchayats and remote, inaccessible or where it is not possible to lay and maintain fiber optic cabling. Of these, around 4,000 have been commissioned in different parts of the country, the official said.

Four satellite gateways with two high-throughput satellites are planned under the BharatNet project, to cover all the 7,000 sites planned for satellite-based Internet services.

BBNL’s satellite-based internet service offering is likely to compete directly with those employed by Bharti Group’s OneWeb, Amazon’s Project Kuiper and Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet Services.

While these companies have not yet launched pilot projects or commercial services in India, they have launched a group of low-Earth orbit satellites that will be used to provide internet connectivity in rural and remote areas.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in a tweet earlier this year that his company-provided Starlink Internet service would soon complete its installation, providing commercial Internet services to users by 2022, while OneWeb also launched is planning to do. High-speed internet services to be launched in the country by the middle of 2022.

The Bharti Group-backed company plans to build a cluster of 648 satellites in low Earth orbit as part of its global plan to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet services. This year, a statement said, “OneWeb has acquired global priority rights for spectrum and has now successfully completed four launches and aims to provide high-speed internet from OneWeb satellites in India by mid-2022.” ”

In November this year, Starlink registered its business in India under a 100 per cent subsidiary, Starlink Satellite Communications Pvt Ltd. The SpaceX division said in a presentation that it aims to have 2,000,000 Starlink devices in India by December 2022, of which 80 percent are in rural districts. It has also started taking pre-orders for its services in India.

However, following an order from the Telecom Ministry, the company has returned all pre-orders and is now said to be working to get the necessary approvals and licenses.

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