New Delhi: Over 37,000 villages in India were still waiting to get connected with the rest of the country through mobile telephony as of March this year, despite the government's efforts to facilitate expansion of networks to rural areas by offering a subsidy.

Over 37,000 villages in the county were yet to be connected with mobile telephony services as of March, 2011, Minister of State for Communications and IT Milind Deora informed Parliament recently.

As of July 31, 2011, state-run BSNL has covered all District Head Quarters (DHQ) and 33,620 cities and towns with GSM-based cellular services.

There are 5,93,731 inhabited villages in India as per the Census 2001.

According to the latest Trai figures, the number of telephone subscribers in India increased to 885.99 million at the end of June, 2011, from 874.68 million at the end of May, 2011, translating into a growth rate of 1.29 per cent.

While the share of urban subscribers stood at 66.36 per cent, the share of rural subscribers in the total user base stood at 33.64 per cent only.

Deora highlighted the shared mobile infrastructure scheme that has been launched by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USO Fund) to provide subsidy support for setting up and managing 7,353 infrastructure sites/towers (revised from 7,871) in 500 districts, spread over 27 states, to facilitate mobile services in remote areas.

"Villages or clusters of villages having a population of 2,000 or more and not having mobile coverage were taken into consideration for installation of towers under this scheme, including hilly, tribal and Naxal-affected areas," Deora said.

Infrastructure providers have reported that 7,289 towers, that is about 99.13 per cent of the total envisaged number, had been set-up as of August 31, 2011, under the USO Fund scheme.

In view of a large decline in landline subscriptions, mainly due to customers' shift toward mobile phones, BSNL has no major plans to install new telephone exchanges in the country, he added. However, in case of a requirement, spare capacities are being redeployed from 'No Demand' to 'Demand' areas in various telecom circles.

Deora also disclosed that as of August 31, 2011, about 5,79,486 villages have been provided with telephone connectivity through village telephones (VPTs).

The government is taking a keen interest in providing mobile and internet connectivity to villages. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had already approved a national optical fibre network providing five lakh villages with internet broadband connectivity at an estimated cost of Rs 20,000 crore.

The cost of establishing the broadband network would be met through the USO Fund, the minister said. According to telecom regulator Trai, the current data on broadband subscription only indicates individual connections, without throwing any light on the actual number of users accessing the broadband services or the usage pattern, as well as the hindrances and barriers to the adoption and usage of broadband.

The number of broadband subscribers in the country stood at 0.18 million at the end of March, 2005, and increased to 12.12 million at the end of May, 2011, the Trai data reveals.

There is an urgent need for a nationwide broadband network to connect education, healthcare, banking and other services infrastructure to the entire population, thereby facilitating the objective of inclusive growth.