India

SERC objections may impede KFON project

A recent directive of Kerala State Electricity Regulatory Commission (KSERC) on a joint venture company floated for building the Kerala Fibre Optic Network (KFON) network is likely to stymie the project that envisages to provide free high-speed Internet connectivity to 20 lakh indigent households as well as 30,000 government offices and educational institutions at an affordable rate.

A commission order on April 27 raised objections about a tripartite agreement signed by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL) and the State government and recorded reservations about the board sharing its transmission and distribution infrastructure for building the network.

Seeks fresh petition

After examining the documents furnished by the board, the commission ordered to file a fresh petition citing the provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003, and Licensing Regulations, 2006. It also directed KSITIL and the IT Department to implead in the petition.

The objections have been flagged at a time when educational institutions and the State administration are shifting to the virtual space in consonance with the COVID-19 containment strategy and preparations are being made to launch online sessions for students from June 1.

Private players

Power sector sources told The Hindu that private telecom majors have been seriously attempting to establish their monopoly in the State and throwing a spanner in the works of KFON would work to their advantage and deprive the right for free Internet connectivity to scores of indigent families.

The board and KISTIL have 49% stakes each and the State government 2% in the venture. The board’s prime contribution is the permission granted for using its right of way as well as transmission and distribution infrastructure without alienating its absolute ownership rights on its assets.

The project

The State government sanction for incorporating the company was accorded on May 10, 2018 and the board had intimated the commission about the project details on July 10, 2018, well before the pact was signed in August 2019.

Work on laying the fibre optic cable is progressing under close government scrutiny and the first phase is scheduled to be completed in December.

The board may soon file a fresh petition recording its objections to the delayed response from the commission. The board will again have to reiterate that it does not intend to either alienate or transfer its assets and such hurdles would only jeopardise the project, sources said.

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