Digital India Needs Affordable Broadband: Trai Chairman

by Sohini Bagchi    Dec 04, 2015


Even though India is considered to be a mobile nation with over one-billion mobile connections, it is unable to convert them into broadband lines. The current cost of broadband and especially rural connectivity for subscribers is so high that it remains a distant dream to many in the country, who could have used internet for education, healthcare and banking and several other benefits.

“For Digital India to be a success, affordable broadband for all is a prerequisite,” said Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chairman RS Sharma at the Infocom seminar in Kolkata, which is now in its 14th edition. For this to happen, the government along with the telecom body is providing internet facilities at the Panchayat level.

He stated that BharatNet envisages connecting every Panchayat through a fibre network and offering multiple services online. The cost for rolling out BharatNet would be $70 billion. 

According to Sharma, “BharatNet should not have the same fate as National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) which did not take off ultimately failed because no work was done on designing the programme beforehand,” Sharma said, adding that design is extremely important for anything to succeed. Also, aligning the interest of all stakeholders should be taken care of.

While Infocom’s theme is “Thriving in the connected world”, another recent event held in New Delhi “Broadband for All Summit” echoed similar sentiment. Ericsson India head Paolo Colella said that three fundamental ICT forces (mobility, broadband, and cloud) are rapidly reshaping value chains, digitalizing business needs and creating newer possibilities. 

“Committing to ICT-enabled transformation is a priority for every country and will be the key to achieving economic growth, boosting national competitiveness, and ensuring social well-being,” he said.

The summit was organized by Ericsson in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden and The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), and emphasized technology needs to be backed by resilient and adequate policy so that the scale and sustainability of the benefits can be enhanced.

“Execution on the National Broadband Policy, spectrum management and evolution of framework for Internet of Things and Cloud-based services are all key factors that will have a bearing on the impact of ICT transformation in the country and therefore need to be focused on.” stated Rajan Mathews, Director General, COAI.

Trai is putting these things into place. According to Sharma, the other factor for success is that the software system of various government departments should be integrated such that citizens need not fill in a lot of documents. “As people need to be digitally empowered to use this infrastructure, the government is conducting various education sessions and is driving digital signatures and digi-lockers where soft copies would remain safe,” Sharma said.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world moved on, creating converged regulators and networks. The State of Broadband Report 2015 of Broadband Commission has stated that “countries which have moved to more innovative fourth-generation regulation including converged regulation features are generally associated with higher levels of broadband penetration and growth.”

Experts at both the conferences are looking for a speedy solution to India’s broadband challenges as they noted that mobile broadband is India’s only hope, fixed lines being only 3 percent. As Ericsson suggested, a holistic and long term approach is needed in terms of the regulatory framework to enable India to successfully transform itself into ‘Smart Digital India’ using broadband as a platform.