Thomas K. Thomas

New Delhi, Nov. 2

In a move aimed at increasing broadband penetration to millions of subscribers, an internal committee of the Department of Telecom has suggested unbundling of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd's last-mile copper lines to private operators.

Unbundling of the last-mile local loop will essentially allow a private operator use BSNL's nationwide fixed line network for offering broadband services. The private player will pay a fee to BSNL for using the copper cables. This arrangement could be a boon for the flailing Internet service provider industry which is currently limited to offering services in small regions due to lack of access to infrastructure. For example, an ISP operating in Lucknow can also reach households in Coimbatore by leasing the PSU's network.

BSNL has an extensive copper network that currently runs to 30 million subscribers and can be ramped up to support millions more. With the number of its own fixed line subscribers declining, allowing private players to ride on its network will mean additional revenue for the PSU. The DoT panel has, however, suggested that only excess capacity after meeting BSNL's own requirement for the next three years, may be left open for the private players.

Last-mile access is the most expensive and tedious part of laying a fixed line network because of which most private players do not get into fixed line broadband. Even Airtel, which has significant fixed line presence, has limited itself to just 90 cities. If BSNL shares its infrastructure, even larger telecom operators will be able to reach more consumers.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 3, 2010)
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