No headway in optical fibre laying project

Kathmandu, October 20

The government-initiated optical fibre laying project along the Mid-Hill Highway, which intended to develop an information superhighway in the country, has failed to make tangible progress even though the project was started more than three years ago.

On different dates in 2016 and 2017, Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) had awarded the contract to lay optical fibre along the Mid-Hill Highway connecting all seven provinces to Nepal Telecom (NT), Smart Telecom and United Telecom Ltd (UTL). However, these firms have not been able to accelerate project development and all these firms have already missed the project development deadline of NTA.

The telecommunications sector regulator had signed an agreement with NT in September 2016 to lay the fibre network in Provinces 1, 2 and 3; with UTL in April 2017 to lay the fibre network in Gandaki Province and Province 5; and with Smart Telecom in September 2017 to lay the fibre network in Provinces 6 (Karnali) and 7.

As of today, NTA is refusing to continue the project with Smart Telecom as the firm has not been able to make tangible progress in the project works despite repeated directions from the authority. Though NTA is in the mood to award the optical fibre laying project across the Karnali Province and Province 7 to a new company, it is still undecided on when to open the new tender. Though Smart Telecom was supposed to lay the optical fibre cables along almost 2,500 kilometres in different parts of the two aforementioned provinces, it has so far laid only 20 kilometres of optical fibre, as per NTA.

In the case of UTL, which was supposed to lay optical fibre across almost 2,000 kilometres in Gandaki Province and Province 5, it has not even started the project work. As UTL failed to comply with the project agreement, NTA a few months ago had scrapped the project contract with UTL. However, NTA is yet to appoint a new developer of the project in these two provinces.

Similarly, Nepal Telecom, that is supposed to lay optical fibre across Provinces 1,2 and 3 has just started the project citing different procedural hurdles.

As none of these firms have been able to give proper shape to the optical fibre project, the project worth billions of rupees faces uncertainty at the moment. NTA is funding these projects through the Rural Telecommunications Development Fund.

Meanwhile, Min Prasad Aryal, spokesperson for NTA, said that the authority will soon take necessary decisions regarding the project in consultation with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.