The to-be-launched “har haath mein phone (HHMP)” scheme comes when a highly uncertain telecom climate prevails, from business as well as regulatory standpoints. It raises a number of questions that seek to be answered.

One important question would be regarding the Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund. A total of six broad streams were identified for utilization of the fund. Would HHMP scheme be the best way for the government to utilize the fund?
No way. In fact, there is a huge inherent risk that the fund would just get exhausted without delivering anything that is tangible or lasting. Also, given that mobile phones have a very short life, compared to several other electronic devices, it wouldn’t be long before they would be non-functional, with the warranties over. Various industry observers have already questioned the economic abilities of the BPL families to recharge their balances in the long run? And with the tariffs tipped to go north in the wake of higher 2G prices, the service affordability becomes even more questionable. (See also
Will the government then again be tapping the USO fund for providing a fresh lot of mobile phones to BPL families?
The streams of activities listed for the USO fund make it evident that far superior choices have already been provisioned in the USO Fund documents. The streams numbered three through five talk about the creation or provisioning of some or the other form of network infrastructure to the villages and remote areas.
Activity stream No. 3 is about the creation of infrastructure for provision of mobile Services in rural and remote areas; the one numbered four aims to provision broadband connectivity to villages in a phased manner while the fifth one list out creation of general infrastructure in rural and remote areas for development of telecommunication facilities. (See
It goes without saying that once such infrastructure is developed, it can lead to much valuable and long-lasting empowerment of BPL families that stay in rural areas.
The difference between building telecom infrastructure in villages and giving away phones to people in the areas would be akin to building roads across villages and giving bicycles to people. Infrastructure would help build access and strengthen local economies that would be far more empowering and be of a lasting nature.
While a National Broadband Plan recommendations were submitted by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) way back in December 2010, which amply provisioned for the development of telecom infrastructure in rural areas, is yet to see the light of the day. It would have been much better if the USO fund, or any other public fund for that matter, was utilized as a part of the national broadband plan. 
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