New Delhi, Nov 13 (PTI) The second phase of BharatNet project with an outlay of Rs 31,000 crore and a mandate to provide high-speed broadband to all panchayats by March 2019 got off the block today.

Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha, along with Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi announced commencement of the phase.

Reliance Jio paid the highest advance subscription fee of Rs 13 crore to provide broadband services at 30,000 village panchayats, with a commitment to buy bandwidth in every panchayat from the government as it expands the project.

“We have paid over Rs 13 crore including GST to buy bandwidth from BharatNet. We will initially cover 30,000 village panchayats and going forward, will set up node in every panchayat as the government expands BharatNet,” Reliance Jio Director Mahendra Nahata said after handing over the cheque to Sinha.

Under the second phase, the government will lay down optical fibre network across 1.5 lakh village panchayats.

Bharti Airtel shelled out Rs 5 crore for bandwidth buy to cover 30,500 village panchayats, Vodafone Rs 11 lakh and Idea Cellular Rs 5 lakh.

The government, Sinha said, has slashed bandwidth price under the BharatNet project by 75 per cent which will help telecom operators provide services at affordable rates.

According to the minister, the first phase of BharatNet will be completed by the end of the year.

“Broadband services have already started in more than 48,000 villages and over 75,000 villages are ready for the services,” Sinha said.

The project, then called the National Optical Fibre Network, was approved by the previous government in October 2011. However, only a few hundred kilometres out of 3 lakh kilometres of optical fibre were laid across the country.

The current government approved changes in the project to expedite rollout and renamed it as BharatNet.

The government expects to complete the entire BharatNet project, entailing an investment of Rs 42,000 crore in both the phases, by March 2019.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.