In the month of July this Year, Telecom Minister Mr. Kapil Sibal, had setup a panel to probe the reasons for delays in providing mobile services in rural areas under the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) scheme & had given the panel 8 weeks to file the report. The findings are in & looks like, telecom companies Bharti Airtel, BSNL, Aircel, Idea Cellular, Reliance and Vodafone who were the service providers under the scheme will be facing financial penalties from the DoT as they have failed to meet their roll-out commitments.
In 2007, the USOF scheme was launched to provide subsidy support for setting up and managing 7,871 infrastructure sites (telecom towers) in 500 districts in specified rural and remote areas across 27 states. The mobile phone companies contribute 5% of their annual sales towards the USOF which is used to the spread of mobility to unavailable areas in rural India.
Following the controversial reduction of fine imposed on Reliance who had shut-off its services for some time in some of the areas (as revealed in an RTI), the probe panel found, that out of the total 7,871 “Infrastructure Sites” i.e. towers, only 7,289 have been commissioned. Similarly, out of the total 21,849 Base Transceiver Systems (BTSs) to be commissioned, there was a shortfall of 6,640 BTSs that are yet to be deployed, resulting in pending by 30.39%.
Though the Telecom companies have justified it with various issues ranging from topographical like unavailability of land (RCom), insurgency, land disputes and natural calamities (BSNL), to technical; non-availability of DG sets at the sites (Bharti Airtel).
Mr. Sibal is not happy & liquidated damage charges may be imposed and bank guarantees forfeited in cases where the companies are found to have delayed rolling out services, said the telecom ministry committee / panel.