India looking to accelerate mobile rollout in Maoist hotbeds

To speed up the rollout of mobile networks in areas populated by Indian Maoists, India's Home Ministry is looking to change telco legislation so it can award a contract without a tender exercise.

India's Home Ministry wants existing telco legislation amended so a contract to build mobile networks in Maoist-populated regions across India can be awarded without going to tender.

According to a report Monday by The Times of India, the ministry asked the administrator of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to modify the Indian Telegraph Act and allow a contract to be awarded to state-owned telco, BSNL  (Bharat Sanchar Nigam), on a "nomination basis". This would accelerate the deployment of GSM networks in the troubled regions, and bypass the need to hold a tender.

Th request came after the ministry rejected a proposal from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to provide satellite-based communications to Maoist "hotbeds" and facilitate surveillance in these areas. It noted that a satellite deployment would be too costly.

"The home ministry is averse to deploying satellite communications technology in regions identified as Maoist hotbeds as it sees it as a short-term, expensive solution," a senior DoT official told The Times of India. "It has advised the USOF to take the necessary legal steps to amend the Indian Telegraph Act to mandate BSNL to roll out GSM networks in these regions , bypassing the open bidding process."

India's telecom operators contribute 5 percent of their annual revenues to the USOF, which subsidizes the construction of telecom infrastructure in regions that face security challenges and low revenues.

The USOF will soon approach the law ministry to amend the Indian Telegraph Act, the report noted.

The home ministry recently rejected a Planning Commission proposal to open these projects up to private bidders, arguing that these should be awarded to a state-run telco "on national security grounds".