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`Telephone waiting list in rural areas to be cleared in a year'

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, FEB. 4. The Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Dayanidhi Maran, today promised that the waiting list of 1.3 million telephones in the rural areas would be cleared within 12 months and steps would be taken to enhance capacity.

Addressing the Parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to his Ministry here, he said tele-density in urban areas was 25 per cent while it was 1.1 per cent in rural areas. This gap showed that a concerted approach was needed to increase tele-density in rural areas.

Elaborating on rural telephony, the agenda for the meeting, he said there were 1.2 crore rural telephone connections. Most of the six-lakh villages in the country had been provided with Village Public Telephones (VPT). However, villages affected by insurgency and those with a population of less than 100 had been excluded.

Thus, a total of 21,000 villages had been excluded. The remaining would be covered by VPTs in a phased manner by November 2007, he said. The Universal Service Obligations (USO) Fund Administration had already awarded contracts to various telecom operators through tenders.

Reliable technology

Mr. Maran said Multi-Access Radio Relay (MARR) VPTs, most of which were non-functional, were being replaced. Of the two-lakh such VPTs, about 1,15,000 had been replaced with reliable technology. The remaining would be replaced by June 2006.

Earlier through landlines, it was possible to give connections only within a 5-km radius of the telephone exchange. With WLL technology, it was possible to provide connections in a radius of up to 25 km. This had enabled rationalisation of the number of exchanges, thereby reducing operational and maintenance problems and ensuring better services to the customers, he said.

To provide resources for meeting the USO, the Institution of Universal Service Obligations Fund was set up. The fund provides support for operational and maintenance of all VPTs.

Most of the telecommunication facilities in the rural areas were provided by BSNL. Private operators had just begun to come forward and start bidding under the USO Fund, Mr. Maran said.

To increase tele-density, the members suggested a change in the approach with greater emphasis on providing public access. They said BSNL should be strengthened so that it could expand its network in the rural areas. The existing communication facilities in rural areas needed to be improved and efforts made to clear the waiting list expeditiously.

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