India wakes up to magnitude of broadband chasm

21st April 2015
India wakes up to  magnitude of broadband chasm

New Delhi April 22 2015: Like Rip Van Winkle -- or Kumbhakarna, if you prefer an Indian legend - India's Telecom Regulatory Authority has  been jolted from slumber to  address the problem of  pathetic broadband Internet coverage: 

  • India ranks 125th in the world for fixed broadband penetration with only 1.2 per 100 inhabitants having access to fixed broadband; the global average is 9.4 per 100 inhabitants.
  • In terms of household penetration within developing countries, India is ranked 75th with a penetration of 13%.  
  • In the wireless broadband space too, India is ranked 113th with a penetration of 3.2 per 100 inhabitants. 

Our neighbours like Bhutan and Sri Lanka are ahead of us in most of these parameters.
TRAI last week  issued its Recommendations on “Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?” This is a follow up to a consultation paper on “Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?” which it brought  out in September  last year.
Promises, promises!
The National Telecom Policy (NTP) of 2012 had a goal of affordable and reliable broadband-on-demand by the year 2015 and to achieve 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by the year 2020 at minimum 2 Mbps download speed and making available higher speeds of at least 100 Mbps on demand. Provide high speed and high quality broadband access to all village panchayats through a combination of technologies by the  year 2014 and progressively to all villages and habitations by 2020
The number of Narrowband and BB connections as on December 31 2014 are:
Narrowband 181.66, Broadband  85.74 and Total 267.4 millions. Against a target of achieving 175 million BB connections by 2017, only 85.74 million have been achieved and that too with the current download speed definition of 512 kbps. 
At present, the  country is nowhere near meeting the target for a service which is considered almost a basic necessity in many developed countries.
There are a few bright spots in this story.See our Video on the Home Page 
for Bharat Broadband's achievement in one Kerala district.
Quoting the  September 2014 Consultative paper, TRAI( now says:
 Introduction  of BB services in India should not be regarded merely as an exercise in  providing connectivity for I ndia’s vast populace; it has much larger and  wider socio-economic ramifications. The realization of larger goals is  contingent on a supporting eco-system. A sustainable ecosystem must address interests of all stakeholders ranging from consumers (services), investors (returns) and Government (governance and strategic interests). There is, therefore, a need for taking a holistic approach and leveraging opportunities provided by wireline and wireless  technologies in each part of the network i.e. backbone, backhaul and  local access, simultaneously balancing them with supply and demand  side concerns. Any disparity in the focus will not deliver the results.
After considering the comments from the stakeholders and further analysis, the Authority has come out with its Recommendations on “Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do? Most importantly  TRAI has asked Govt. to reduce the license fees required for fixed line broadband connection, for a minimum period of 5 years.  The salient features of the recommendations are as follows:
Institutional revamping
·         WPC should be converted into an independent body by de-linking it from the present DoT hierarchy and either converting it into a statutory body responsible to Parliament or transferring it to an existing statutory body. Even in a more limited role of assigning solely commercially available spectrum, there is a strong case for an institutional overhaul of WPC to realize goals of institutional efficiency, transparency in decision-making and full disclosure of decisions.
·         The multi-layered structure for decision making for national project NOFN is just not suitable for a project that needs to be executed in mission-mode.  The structure needs immediate overhaul.
·         Align spectrum bands with globally harmonized bands to achieve interference-free coexistence and economies of scale. Current availability of spectrum in our LSAs is about 40% of that available in comparable countries elsewhere.  Clearly, there is a crying need forassignment of additional spectrum for commercial telecom services.
·         There is a need to lay down a clear roadmap for spectrum management which should state the requirement and availability of spectrum for each LSA as well as for the whole country.  This roadmap should be made available publicly to ensure transparency.
·         There is an urgent need for audit by an independent agency of all allocated spectrum both commercial as well as spectrum allocated to various PSUs/Government organizations. This ought to be a national priority and must be undertaken within 3 months.
Right of Way (RoW)
·         Single-window clearance is an imperative for all (Right of Way) RoW proposals at the level of the States and in the Central Government. All such clearances have to be time-bound so that TSPs and infrastructure providers can move rapidly to project execution. Ideally, single-window clearance should be administered online with a defined turnaround time. The reasons for denial of RoW permission should be recorded in writing.
·         There is a need for enunciating a National RoW Policy to ensure uniformity in costs and processes. 
Natiojnal Optical Fibre Network
·         Project implementation on Centre State Public-Private Partnership (CSPPP) mode by involving State Governments and the private sector. 
·         Award of EPC (turnkey) contracts by BBNL to private parties through international competitive bidding needs to be planned. Such contracts can be given region-wise with clear requirements for interconnection with other networks, as well as infrastructure sharing with other operators who would like to utilize this network. A commercial model around this will need to be suitably deployed.
·         Single-window, time-bound clearance should be encouraged for installation of towers to ensure the rapid development of national networks.
·         Extensive consumer awareness and education programmes should be organized so that consumers fully understand the latest scientific information on EMF radiation and its potential impact on health.
Fixed line BB
·         To promote fixed line BB, the license fee on the revenues earned from fixed line BB should be exempted for at least 5 years.
·         The infrastructure of PSUs is lying unutilized and thus they should be mandated to unbundle their network and allow sharing of outside plant (OSP).
·         Cable operators should be allowed to function as resellers of ISP license holders to enable them to take advantage of their cable network to provide BB.
·         Implementation of digitization of cable services to tier 2 and tier 3 cities in a time-bound manner.
·         Separation of Licensor, Regulator and Operator functions in the satellite space domain to conform to best international practices of free markets.
·         The issue of coordination of additional spectrum in the 2500-2690 MHz band with DoS needs to be addressed urgently, so that this band can be optimally utilized for commercial as well as strategic purposes.
Hosting of Content in India
·         The Government needs to encourage local and foreign companies to build ‘Data Centre Parks’ on the lines of industrial parks, SEZs etc. by providing them land, infrastructure and uninterrupted power supply at affordable rates.
Universal Adoption
·         Governments, both Central and State shall have to act as model users and anchor tenants through delivery of e-Government services including e-education, e-governance, m-health, m-banking and other such services.
·         Schools are the ideal and convenient point for early initiation to BB services. Government schools in the rural and remote areas can be provided subsidy from the USOF for BB connectivity.
·         Cost of CPE (desktop/laptop/tabs etc.) are major barriers to the adoption of BB services.  TSPs may be allowed to offer CPE bundled tariff schemes.  Revenues from such offers ought to be exempted from the applicable license fee at least for a certain number of years (say for three years).  
TRAI release here