Broadband is high speed; always-on Internet access, which is widely recognized as catalyst for economic and social development of a country. Broadband enables people to surf Internet, provide access to enormous knowledge bank, to do business more efficiently, be better educated, have access to e-health services, benefit from better governance and enjoy enhanced entertainment. Availability of Broadband services at affordable tariff can have significant impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and attract new investment as well as generate more employment in addition to increase in Productivity. Therefore all these plus points of Broadband make it necessary to be a part of economy. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), recognizing the importance of broadband forwarded its first recommendations on “Accelerating Growth of Internet and Broadband Penetration” in April 2004. Based on this the Government announced its broadband policy in 2004 and projected that the number of broadband subscribers in India would reach 9 million by end-2007. However we have not even reached one third of the target which is a shameful thing.
The Authority noted that inspite of various initiatives to increase the growth of broadband; the growth of broadband has been very poor. The Authority felt an urgent need to identify various impediments affecting growth of broadband and to adopt a forward looking approach. Based on its consultation with the industry, public and the best international practices TRAI has now forwarded fresh recommendations to the Government on “Accelerating growth of Broadband “on 2nd January 2008.
Last broadband year was so so…..
In the last 'Broadband Year' the penetration has only reached 2.7 million from 2 million which makes a total increase of 35%, still quite far from the targeted figure of 20 million till 2010. But, this year brings with it high hopes and increased expectations from the Government and the regulators both. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India told the Government that India may miss the Broadband bus if immediate measures were not taken to boost the usage of high speed Internet in the country. In the latest released report of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, India is listed at the bottom of 34 countries in which countries have been ranked based on the Broadband penetration.
While giving the recommendations TRAI has considered all available technologies for providing broadband by all types of service providers like Telecom companies, ISP's, Cable operators and DTH companies. Both infrastructure that is wired and Wireless have been included. TRAI believes that technologies like DSL, Cable networks, FTTH etc are best suited for the urban areas and wireless technologies like WiMax and DTH are ideal for the rural and far flung areas where building last mile infrastructure is difficult. Their key recommendations include using the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to subsidise backhaul charges for the initial three years of broadband roll-out in rural areas and identifying more than two service providers seeking minimum subsidy with a roll-out obligation in rural areas. It also said, municipal committees should be encouraged to include a clause for making multiple dwelling units/ buildings broadband-ready by adopting suitable internal wiring while giving clearance for the construction of all such buildings in future.
Broadband through DSL
Government should increase the target that were fixed for connections during 2007-08. For this purpose BSNL and MTNL should be encouraged to appoint franchisees for providing broadband services to supplement their efforts.
TEC should undertake certification of different CPE models for provisioning of the broadband.
Incumbents may declare future plans for providing broadband using DSL technology.
Broadband through Cable TV Network
Looking at the large coverage of cable TV networks, Cable Operators should be encouraged to provide broadband over their network.
Broadband through DTH
More number of Ku band transponders should be made available in order to enable DTH expansion
Streamlining RoW procedures
A committee to be formed at district level to study Right of Way requirement, in order to obtain a firm demand of OFC ducts from all operators. The Central Government may consider mandating the state governments to adopt uniform RoW procedures.
Broadband through Wireless
Government should expedite decision on TRAI's recommendation regarding mechanism and pricing of spectrum for 3G & Broadband Wireless Access.
Spectrum for 3G & WIMAX should be made Available at the earliest to boost the deployment of broadband using these technologies.
Broadband enabled buildings
DoT should encourage through state governments that all Municipal committees include a clause for making multiple dwelling units
Some of the other initiatives to decrease the cost of internet bandwidth suggested by TRAI are:-
• To Expedite the action on their recommendations on “terms and conditions of Resale in IPLC”
• “Improvement in the effectiveness of NIXI”
• Sharing of Blackhaul
• USO support for Broadband
Some of the recommendations which have been accepted by the government on TRAI's earlier recommendations include:-
• Allowing Internet service provision to multiple distinct customers using VSAT infrastructure.
• Streamlining the clearance process from WPC and SACFA.
• Waiving off the requirement for SACFA and WPC clearance for receive only VSAT installation.
• Waiving off the requirement for SACFA and WPC clearance for DTH installation with Receive Only Internet.
• De-licensing of bands 2.4-2.48 GHz for low power outdoor use and 5.15-5.35 GHz band for the low power indoor use of WiFi systems.
• De-licensing of 5.725-5.85 GHz band to facilitate deployment of Wireless access for broadband.
• Allowing provision of internet services via DTH platform.
However Recommendations like local loop unbundling, Concessions in license fee to the VSAT and DTH operators, reduction of WPC charges, Exemption of spectrum Royalty for DTH operators for up linking from India, Streamlining Right of Way (RoW) etc have not been accepted by the Government so far.
Outlook and Implications
In its recommendations, the TRAI placed a high priority on the requirement that the existing local loop must be utilized efficiently and without any further delay. The TRAI also called for the spectrum for wireless broadband technologies to be allocated to service providers on a priority basis to boost broadband growth. The regulator stated that any further delay would not only limit the number of broadband users but would also have a very adverse impact on the Indian economy in the future.
The TRAI has also identified wireless broadband technologies as an effective method for providing large-scale broadband connections. However, DoT has not allocated any spectrum for 3G or WiMAX, which is the major impediment for wireless broadband deployments. The TRAI had already, in 2006, recommended the mechanism and pricing of spectrum for 3G and broadband wireless access to the DoT.
What has not been emphasized by TRAI in its recommendations are the use of more than 70 million subscriber last mile infrastructure of the cable networks. It is a well known fact that Co-Axial cables have a very high capacity, next only to Fiber optic cables for carrying Broadband signals. Also, quality of the Last mile cable infrastructure is as good or as bad as the Telecom companies. In their own words BSNL and MTNL had accepted only 25% of their infrastructure fit for broadband. What is needed is a technical innovation to integrate telecom backhual with co-axial last mile. Once the cable operators understand the value of their infrastructure, they will do any thing to improve it further to be part of the Broadband Revolution. It is pertinent to mention that cable networks have more subscribers in the rural areas than the Telecom companies. Also, many cable operators in the rural areas use fiber optic cables to extend there services to dozens of villages. .As recommended by the Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) the Government should initiate a Digital Services Obligation Fund (DSOF) on the lines of USO Fund which can be used to digitalize cable networks, particularly in the rural areas because digitalization is the fastest way to broadband growth.