A proposal to install mobile towers at 1,836 locations in states affected by left-wing extremism with funding support from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) has already been approved.
"Mobile networks under the USOF scheme are likely to be set up in 15 months," Prasad said during Question Hour. Bharat Sancahr Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has installed mobile towers at 363 locations for which financial support to meet operational expenses would be provided through USOF. According to the Minister, the project cost discovered by BSNL for setting up mobile towers in the Naxal-affected states is "Rs 3,567.58 crore" through transparent and open tender process.
"In its meeting held on June 13, 2014, the Telecom Commission recommended that the proposal may be placed before the Union Cabinet for approval," he said. Besides, BSNL is implementing Phase VII of its mobile network expansion by installing Base Transreceiver Stations (BTSs) for 2G services and Node B for 3G services.
"Phase VII expansion of BSNL in the states affected by left-wing extremism is likely to be completed by April 2015," Prasad said. He also noted that there was no proposal by BSNL to take over network assets/infrastructure of other existing service providers. Noting that security of telecom towers in naxal-affected areas is very important, Prasad said the government is working with various security agencies in this regard. Having telecom towers in naxal-affected areas would not only help in beefing up security but also ensure connectivity, he said.
On the issue of ensuring power supply for the towers, he acknowledged that there are concerns and said "there is scope for improvement".
The idea of using solar power for telecom towers is being looked into, especially for the North-East region, Prasad said. To a separate query, the Minister said improving the functioning of BSNL is a priority for the government. Under the Prime Minister's direction, the government is working on ways to improve condition of BSNL and there would be improvement, he added.