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Krishan Kumar

Krishan is Company Secretary and Law Graduate (University of Delhi) working as legal head of a leading Internet Service Provider. He is also a member of Uniserve Knowledge Foundation committee on Technology Laws & Internet. He has a experience of more than 10 years in technology law domain and has considerable understanding of Telecom Regulatory Issues and related laws.

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Digital India: Broadband Speed Bumps

Modi government has envisaged the dream of Digital India, which wishes to convert Indian society into a digital society through e-governance, e-payment, e-knowledge, e-education etc.

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These are the days when everybody is talking about Demonetization and moving from cash economy to cashless economy by using digital methods. Digital Wallet and Card payment is good, but major problem is broadband speed, which lead to cancellation of payment and makes it difficult for people to use these digital payment methods. I read in today's newspaper that people are finding it difficult to use digital wallet mode of payment because of data speed issue in Janpath and various areas of Delhi. My point is if we don’t have good broadband connection in Janpath, which is the heart of Delhi ie Capital of India, then what will be the plight of common man who lives in non metro cities or rural areas of India. Broadband availability, reliability and affordability is the single largest speed bump on the road to Digital India.

Broadband-wheel of Digital India

Modi government has envisaged the dream of Digital India, which wishes to convert Indian society into a digital society through e-governance, e-payment, e-knowledge, e-education etc. It can bring transparency also in the system.  Demonetization is also a step towards that end. No doubt vision of Digital India has to be realized to keep India at par with developed nations. This has the capability to transform India into a Digital economy.

 But the mute question which haunts are:

How this will be achieved?  

How to access e -services

What are the prerequisites?

How prepared we are to embrace it?

How bumpy is the ride; and

How to make it smooth as we are aspiring to make India Economy a Digital economy, where most of the things will be done online?

The lifeline of digital India is Broadband & in turn the backbone is network. So we have no option but to make the broadband network robust and available in every nook and corner. Thus Broadband is inter alia dependent on three factors Availability, Reliability and Affordability.

Through this article we are trying to analyze what should be done to make Broadband available, reliable and affordable

 Broadband Availability:

Government of India, on its part, is trying to contribute towards expanding telecom infrastructure. This is evident from government’s participation in various telecom support projects such as National Optic Fiber Network (NOFN) to connect Gram Panchayats in rural pockets of India with a principal telecom network, for high speed data transmission and internet services but it is possible only with proactive support from states. The NOFN project is expected to be one of the major drivers for OFC installations in India. However, the project has stuck up in red tapism as the network rollout pace is very slow and missing its targets. This has been acknowledged by TRAI also. To ensure that project meets its targets accountability needs to be fixed for the officers involved. Broadband penetration in India is around 6%, even lower that Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Special purpose vehicle i.e. BBNL created for this purpose has failed to iron out the differences between various stakeholders including ROW issues. Center and state are not in Sync. They need to come out with a uniform National policy and time bound single window clearance. Government can lay network as neutral network player. PPP is also a good option. Local authorities can put fiber network and can made it available to operators on lease basis. This will create additions stream of revenue for them. In this regard it won’t be out of context to quote DMRC, who has laid OFC network along its route and has made the same available to the Operators on lease basis. NHAI, Railways, Local authorities, Electric company, water works department can do. This calls for to think differently. Electric department has good network in terms of poles, which can be used for the purpose. This will create a win-win situation for both electric company and operators. Cable operators can be roped to resell the Broadband services as they have good presence especially in Tier I & Tier II cities.

Broadband Reliability: After availability next comes reliability i.e. enough capacity need to be created. We cannot expect reliability in the absence of availability. Here reliability means quality and consistent speed. For reliability required security of Network. The rapid growth and increasing use of various devices capable of using internet in the home is changing the way broadband services are used. This has resulted in more bandwidth consumption per home and is expected to grow further. The need to access various services on line continue to put pressure on service providers to deliver reliable service.

Today's service and information economy is highly dependent on telecommunication. Failure of network even a few hours can disrupt the conduct of business including critical services and even our personal lives.  Network failures can be attributed to various reasons. In most of the cases it is accidental. However, sometime it can be deliberate acts or sabotage. Deliberate acts of harm can be internal or external. Network needs to be protected. Network should be including equipment facilities must be physically secured to the extent possible. Adequate access control to colocation facilities, POP, POD, power and control systems need to be in place. Critical areas can be monitored by using latest technology like CCTV, sensing devices, alarm facilities etc. Disaster recovery plan is another requirement. Best practice should be followed by all stakeholders including service providers and equipment manufacturers and they should be standardized.   Sabotage should be made punishable offence. Internet should be declared critical services. 

As per Akamai report for the first quarter of 2016, speed in India is quite low. As per Akamai-Mobile Connectivity / Average mobile connection speeds (aggregated at a country/region level) ranged from a high of 27.9 Mbps in the United Kingdom to a low of 2.2 Mbps in Algeria in the first quarter of 2016, while average peak mobile connection speeds ranged from 171.6 Mbps in Germany to 11.7 Mbps in Ghana. At a country/region level, South Korea continued to have the highest average connection speed in the world at 29.0 Mbps, while Singapore maintained its position as the country with the highest average peak connection speed at 146.9 Mbps. Indonesia and South Korea joined global leaders Singapore and Hong Kong as the four countries/regions in the world with average peak connection speeds above 100 Mbps. SingTel launched a new 10 Gbps broadband service for local residences.

Whereas in India average Broadband speed is 3.5 mbps and peak speed is 25.5 mbps and average Mobile connections speed is 3.2 Mbps and peak speed is 20.9 Mbps.

We stand nowhere in comparison to other nation of even Asia Pacific. The Broadband speed being 2 Mbps is far from enough and need to be reconsidered. Gone are the days when people used to watch movies and other contents after overnight downloading, Present era is of live streaming. Further there should not be any rationing because ‘ye dil mange more’.

Broadband Affordability- Availability of quality service at affordable price. Penetration of internet in India is 6%, if it has to grow for realizing Digital India dream rates need to be come down. People are having smart phone but not have data connection round the clock due to pricing. Government can play a vital role here also in making data plans affordable by offering various incentives to the service providers. Introducing competition is also one of the way. Broadband through cable TV can also be a good option to connect millions home. In many country cable is a medium for B/B connectivity to drive down prices investment by government in infrastructure, tax incentive, poster competition, tax exemption on network equipment. Change in policy to attempt investment ease of doing business.

Conclusion: To realize Digital India dreams and make India economy as Digital economic, to facilitate e-education, e-payments, e- governance which can have long term positive effects, the country has to pass the test of these three abilities with distinction. Data/internet should be declared mission critical services.

We must understand that most of the population lives in Bharat (rural) and Digital India will be an illusion in the absence of availability of reliability and affordability of data connection in Bharat. Digital India can run only by riding on high speed Broadband.

We have the government at center who has the necessary political will. Now TRAI, DOT and its wings need to play their role by acting as facilitator instead of regulator (Daroga) create awareness among public) to ensure that this country pass this acid test of ability. Last but not least this calls for positive action by state Govt also as Broadband is the Lifeline of Digital India.

Time to act fast as action speaks louder than words.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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