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Broadband Review - TRAI paper seeks to improve penetration rates

July 15, 2010
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In the wake of increasing concerns about low broadband penetration, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) sought the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) recommendations on the issue. The idea was to promote the availability of broadband services at affordable tariffs, which, in turn, would provide access to enormous information, facilitate the delivery of civic services, increase GDP contributions, generate more employment and enhance productivity. In line with this, in June 2010, TRAI issued a consultation paper on the National Broadband Plan. The consultation process is likely to result in:

  • Recommendations to the government on key issues
  • New regulations or modification of the existing regulations.
The consultation paper is expected to redefine broadband connectivity in view of the future growth in internet/broadband driven by wireless technologies.

According to TRAI, it is a matter of concern that broadband penetration in India is as low as 0.74 per cent compared to the national teledensity of 52.74 per cent. The net broadband addition per month is a mere 0.1 million to 0.2 million in contrast to the nearly 15 million new mobile connections per month. This is despite the fact that 104 telecom service providers are operational in this space.

Further, with 70 per cent of India's population residing in the rural areas, it is not fair to limit broadband facilities to the metros and major cities. As of end-April 2010, only 5 per cent of the 9 million broadband subscribers are from rural areas. The low rural penetration rate is being attributed to the non-availability of transmission media connectivity up to the village level. According to TRAI, broadband availability is crucial to the development of the rural regions and needs to be stepped up. It is, therefore, important to identify the impediments to broadband growth and create an environment that encourages broadband applications.

In its paper, TRAI states that the country's broadband scenario necessitates an urgent focus on the creation of a robust national infrastructure that would cater to future requirements in both urban and rural areas. TRAI notes that one of the options being explored to increase rural broadband penetration is to build an optic fibre network to 375,552 villages with a population of 500 or more. Such a network would require the laying of about 12 billion km of optic fibre at a cost of about Rs 323 billion. This network would integrate with the backbones of various service providers, and users would be able to access broadband services with a variety of wired and wireless solutions. The project could be funded by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for non-skilled work and by the Universal Service Obligation Fund for material and equipment costs.

In order to initiate a focused discussion on all the pertinent issues with regard to the growth of broadband, TRAI has asked the concerned stakeholders to send in their comments on issues such as:
Broadband demand and supply

  • Steps needed to increase the demand for broadband 
  • Steps required to improve the perceived utility of broadband among the masses
  • Measures to enhance the availability of useful applications for broadband
  • Measures to make broadband more consumer friendly, especially for people who have a limited knowledge of English and computers
  • Actions required to increase the existing telecom infrastructure to support broadband demand.

National broadband network

  • Building a network topology that would support high speed broadband using evolving wireless technologies
  • Measures required to ensure optimal utilisation of the existing copper network used to provide wireline telephone connections
  • Role of fibre-based technologies in the access network in providing high speed broadband in the next five years
  • The changes required in the existing licensing and regulatory framework to encourage cable TV operators to upgrade their networks to provide broadband services
  • Steps needed to improve the availability of optic fibre from districts/cities to villages for effective backhaul connectivity
  • The need to create a national optic fibre network extending to villages and the ways to procure funding for the same.
  • Regulatory challenges and future approach
  • Refining the minimum speed of broadband connections
  • Specific steps to ease the grant of speedy right-of-way (RoW) permission and to ensure availability of RoW at affordable costs
  • The need to enhance competition in the broadband sector
  • Determining if the high broadband usage charge is a deterrent to the growth of broadband
  • Ensuring the affordability of broadband services by taking appropriate steps
  • Underlining the basis for calculating broadband tariffs
  • Assessing if the utilisation of international internet bandwidth can be made more efficient in the present situation
  • Evaluating the need to segregate the use of domestic and international internet bandwidth to impact broadband affordability
  • Taking steps to bring down the cost of international internet bandwidth in the country.


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