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TRAI seeks stakeholders’ views on how to deliver broadband quickly

MUMBAI: Concerned with the slow pace of broadband connectivity, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a consultation paper (CP) on ‘Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?’

The objective of this CP is to discuss issues contributing to the poor broadband penetration in India and solicit stakeholders’ views on actions that need to be taken both by the government and the service providers to accelerate the proliferation and use of broadband in the country.

In the CP, the regulator has sought views on the way the cost of deploying various broadband technologies can be reduced, measures required to encourage content service providers to host content in the data centre situated within India, issues in laying optical fibre, and freeing spectrum bands for Wi-Fi technology, among other things.

According to TRAI, affordable broadband connectivity, services and applications are essential to modern society, offering widely recognised social and economic benefits.

Nowhere is the impact of broadband more important and critical than in the developing countries. Growing evidence suggests that broadband can boost GDP, jobs and income, helping to combat poverty and hunger.

While India has a broadband policy in place since the year 2004 and the government has taken a number of initiatives to increase the penetration of broadband in the country, the performance is still dismal, compared to most other countries in the world.

The NTP 2012 had envisaged achieving 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.

Against a target of achieving 175 million broadband connections by 2017, only 60.87 million have been achieved. The country is nowhere near meeting the target for a service which is considered almost a basic necessity in many developed countries, TRAI regretted.

The NTP 2012 had also recommended revising the existing broadband download speed of 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps and subsequently to 2 Mbps by 2015 and higher speeds of at least 100 Mbps thereafter.

The TRAI had last year revised the definition of broadband by increasing the minimum download speed to 512 kbps from 256 kbps.

As many as 60.87 million broadband subscribers have been reported by 121 operators for March 2014. The top ten service providers account for about 97 per cent of subscriber base and the top 5 service providers alone hold 83 per cent market share.

However, state-owned companies, viz. BSNL and MTNL, together have about 74.9 per cent market share for wireline broadband and 30.5 per cent for overall broadband subscriptions.

This, TRAI said, suggests that despite having a licence for providing broadband services, the majority of the service providers are either unwilling or unable to penetrate into the market and the market is still dominated by a handful of players.

As per the state-wise distribution of broadband subscribers, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have a total of 54.4 per cent of overall connections. Metro and category A circles account for 61 per cent of overall connections. Broadband outreach is very uneven. Many states have little to no broadband connectivity, TRAI pointed out.

Although broadband penetration is low in India, the entry-level tariff for broadband services has come down drastically from Rs1,500 per month in 2004 to around Rs 500 a month in 2014. Most service providers charge a monthly rental between Rs 200 to Rs 1,600 for a broadband connection and providing various packages for data transfer. Most service providers provide unlimited download packages. Unlimited broadband plans are on offer for Rs 549 per month.

The CP raises the following main implementation and policy issues:
1. Are PSUs ideal choices for implementing the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project?
2. Should awarding of EPC turnkey contracts to private-sector parties through International Competitive Bidding (ICB) be considered for the NOFN project?
3. Should we not explore ways in which infrastructure development costs can be reduced? Is it possible to piggyback on the existing private-sector access networks so as to minimise costs in reaching remote rural locations?
4. What can the private sector do to reduce delivery costs?
5. What are the major issues in obtaining Right of Way (RoW) for laying optical fibre?
6. What are the impediments to the provision of broadband by cable operators?
7. What measures (including policy changes) are required to be taken for promoting broadband through the cable network?
8. What measures are required to reduce the cost and create a proper ecosystem for deployment of FTTH in the access network?
9. What are the reasons that installation of Wi-Fi hotspots has not picked up in the country?
10. What is the quantum of spectrum required to meet the target of broadband penetration?
11. How do we identify spectrum bands for provision of wireless broadband services?
12. What are the measures required to encourage government agencies to surrender spectrum occupied by them in IMT bands?
13. What should be the time frame for auctioning the spectrum in 700 MHz band?

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