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| Updated on September 06, 2021

The Centre should accept TRAI’s path-breaking proposals for promoting broadband connectivity

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has made several path-breaking proposals for promoting broadband connectivity in the country. Access to secure, reliable, and affordable high-speed broadband services is a clear and urgent priority for every citizen. The need for broadband will only increase in the future as we move into a digital world where products, services, governance, financial transitions, education, and entertainment are quickly moving to online platforms. While broadband penetration in India has improved drastically over the last five years to cover 60 per cent of the population, this has been predominantly achieved using wireless technologies. When one billion-plus Indians get online and start consuming data, the existing mobile networks will not be enough to support that demand. In order to address the supply side of the problem, the TRAI has proposed that operators rolling out fixed-line broadband networks should be given licence fee exemptions. To support the demand side of the equation, the regulator has suggested a pilot scheme to reimburse 50 per cent of the monthly fixed-line broadband subscription charges, subject to not more than ₹200 per month per subscriber, to each rural fixed-line broadband subscriber through the DBT platform. In order to streamline Right of Way permission processes for laying optical fibre, the TRAI has proposed a web-based national portal with clear roles defined for the Central, State, and local body authorities. This portal will provide a huge relief to telecom companies who continue to face huge bottlenecks at the local level when it comes to laying cable. The Centre should accept these proposals immediately if it wants to achieve the target of enabling fixed-line broadband access to 50 per cent of households as set out in the National Digital Communications Policy 2018.

However, the TRAI could have done better on defining minimum speeds for broadband. It had set a minimum download speed of 512 Kbps in 2014 which is now being proposed to be increased to 2 Mbps. Operators are now capable of offering an average speed of over 10 Mbps. With 5G expected to be launched next year, the regulator could have pitched for at least 5 Mbps speeds given that the Centre has set a target of providing universal broadband connectivity at 50Mbps to every citizen. The regulator must also ensure that operators are meeting the quality of service parameters as consumers are still grappling with basic network issues like voice call drops and interrupted data services. There are still areas where 4G networks have not stabilised causing frequent disruption in internet services.

The reality is that the TRAI has been pushing for broadband reforms for more than a decade. But the Centre has so far seen the telecom sector only as a non-tax revenue generator for the exchequer. If the Centre wants to really prepare the country’s telecom sector for the upcoming digital revolution, it must ensure that TRAI’s recommendations become a reality.

Published on September 06, 2021

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