Optical fibre has been installed along 1,600 kilometres length so far under the Optical Fibre Backbone Network Expansion Project across the country.

Nepal Telecom Authority had initiated the project with a goal of expanding optical fibre network in two years, but only 46.16 per cent of work was completed till July 15. Nepal Telecom, which had got responsibility of laying optical fibre in provinces 1, 2 and Bagmati Province under the first phase, has completed installing optical fibre in these areas.

As per the agreement, the NT has to install optical fibre along 2,083 kilometres in three provinces. Of them, it has laid the fibre along 1,006 kilometres in five years. The NTA had given the responsibility to install fibre over 6,235 kilometres of mid-hill highway to three separate companies dividing the project into three sections.

Out of three sections, fibre laying work has started, and work has not started yet in some areas. NTA had signed agreement with Nepal Telecom on 28 September 2012 to lay fibre from eastern Nepal to Gorkha within two years under the first section.

NTA Spokesperson Santosh Poudel said that Nepal Telecom had started laying optical fibre from mid-May 2019. He said Nepal Telecom had given responsibility to five companies to lay optical fibre and purchase goods for the same in three provinces under the first section.

Work has not begun in two sections of the information superhighway expansion project divided into three sections. The installation of optical fibre has not begun in 2,160 kilometres in 21 districts of Gandaki and Lumbini provinces under Section-2.

Although NTA has given the responsibility to United Telecom for expansion, the expansion work has halted as a case has been filed against it in the Supreme Court. The NTA had signed a contract worth Rs 2.01 billion with UTL on 8 May 2017.

NTA annulled the contract with UTL on 9 May 2019 citing the latter failed to start work on the project within the specified period. After this, UTL moved the Supreme Court.

Under the project, optical fibre worth 98 core will be installed along the Mid-hill Highway. Optical fibre worth Rs 48 core will be laid along the roads linking the district headquarters and the Midhill Highway with the East- West highway while optical fibre worth Rs 24 core will be installed alongside the roads connecting the municipalities.

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 Sudurpaschim province to a new company, it is still undecided on when to open the new tender.

Though Smart Telecom was supposed to lay 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 Lumbini Province, it has not even started the project work. As UTL failed to comply with the project agreement, NTA 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 Bagmati Province 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.

The project envisages connecting 32 districts in Provinces 1, 2 and Bagmati with high-speed optical fibre to allow fast data transfers and voice and video calls, according to the state-owned telecom giant.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 4 2021, of The Himalayan Times.