It is in the interest of the state to complete the project as early as possible by assigning the work to new companies

As with nearly all government projects, its optical fibre laying project along the Mid-Hill Highway in a bid to connect all seven provinces has hit a snag, with some provinces even seeing zero progress. The Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA), the regulator in the sector, had divided the project into three sections and awarded contracts to three different companies to lay 6,235 kilometres of optical fibre network along the Mid-Hill Highway some years back. However, till date, only a little over 1,025 km of optical fibre cable has been laid, that too nearly all of it in Provinces 1, 2 and Bagmati. All three companies that had been awarded contracts to lay the optical fibre on different sections of the highway have already missed the project deadline, prompting the NTA to annul the contracts with at least two of them given their dismal performance. It's outrageous that the state would tolerate companies that can't even lay a single kilometer of optical fibre even after years of signing the contract.

The Optical Fibre Backbone Network Expansion Project had begun five years ago, with the NTA signing an agreement with Nepal Telecom in 2016 to lay a network spanning 2,083 km in Provinces 1, 2 and 3 (Bagmati) and connecting 32 districts. The following year, contracts were awarded to United Telecom (UTL) for the network in Gandaki and Lumbini Provinces, and to Smart Telecom in Karnali and Sudurpaschim Provinces. The intention of laying the optical fibre along the Mid-Hill Highway is to develop an information superhighway in the country. But failure to build the optical fibre network on time means cost overruns and inability by the state, entrepreneurs and people to take advantage of the multi-billion rupee scheme, which would add billions of rupees to the country's GDP once completed. Of particular concern is the performance of Smart Telecom and UTL. UTL was supposed to lay 2,160 km of optical fibre cable in 21 districts across Gandaki and Lumbini Provinces. It has not even started the project. Smart Telecom has laid only 20 km of optical fibre, out of the 2,500 kilometres that it was supposed to in Karnali and Sudurpaschim Provinces. Nepal Telecom has, however, laid a network of 1,006 kilometres of optical fibre.

Development of optical fiber technology has been a major driver behind the information technology revolution and the tremendous progress witnessed in global telecommunications. Optical fibre has an array of uses that people might not be aware of. Compared to the traditional copper wire, fibre optic cables are less bulky, lighter and transmit large amounts of data at very high speeds. The technology is, therefore, used widely in telecommunications to speed up internet connections, television and voice and video calls through a single line. It will also provide the necessary bandwidth for efficient use of 4G services that have now been introduced in the country.

Therefore, it is in the interest of the state to complete the project as early as possible by assigning the work to new companies that are capable of fulfilling their contracts. But before work can progress, it is important that the companies receive route clearance from all the local levels.

Food for poor

Good Samaritans distributed foodstuffs to as many as 216 poor families, especially Dalits, at Muktikot village of Swamikartik Khapar Rural Municipality, Bajura on Tuesday. Rice, pulses, salt, soap and cooking oil were distributed to each of the families, who were reeling under acute food shortage, mainly due to the prolonged prohibitory orders and lockdown imposed by the local administration to break the chain of the coronavirus. These families, whose lives depend largely on daily wages, have not been able to make their ends meet following restrictions on movement. Whatever food grains they grow on their drought-prone farmland do not support them for more than three months, and they have to buy food from the local market for the rest of the year.

More than 95 per cent of the people in this village live in extreme poverty and suffer from malnutrition.

As a result of the food crisis, children, elderly and pregnant women have been badly affected. This is a common problem faced by the people in Karnali Province. The three tiers of government should come up with a lasting solution to the perennial food crisis in the region. The people should be involved in growing cash crops to resolve the food crisis.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 5, 2021 of The Himalayan Times.