India’s telecom regulator TRAI has issued a directive (pdf) mandating all fixed broadband providers to ensure a minimum download speed of 512 Kbps including for plans that follow a fair usage policy (FUP). In addition, TRAI has mandated both wired and cellular Internet providers to provide accurate information of post and pre FUP speeds and other tariff information to ensure that the ISP/telco doesn’t use the “unlimited Internet” garb for FUP plans.
Interestingly, In August TRAI had recommended setting the minimum broadband speed to 2 mbps from the existing 512 Kbps. Similarly in September 2014, TRAI examined needs to set 2Mbps as minimum speed; it had issued a consultation paper which proposed increasing the minimum speed to 2 mbps.
However, the regulator has gone ahead with 512 Kbps as minimum broadband speeds. But the question is:
Is this enough?
Certainly not and here’s why.
-Sad state of Internet speeds: Akamai reports continue to suggest that India’s Internet speeds is lowest in APAC region with average speeds at 3.5 Mbps. The highest was South Korea’s which stood at 29 Mbps. Therefore, a good minimum broadband speed for the country would be at least 16 Mbps.
-India’s primary Internet access mode is mobile: Wired broadband can be significantly faster than mobile, but with such low speeds, consumers have no incentive to switch to a fixed connection. TRAI’s recent telecom subscription numbers shows that number of wired broadband subscribers stood at 17.49 million connections, compared to a whopping 148.93 million in wireless broadband connections (including mobile and dongle connections). This shows that India depends primarily upon wireless connections offered by mobile operators for its Internet.
–Private players still offer Internet packs at 256 Kbps: Some ISPs including well-known providers like ACT still lists plans that have post FUP speeds at 256 Kbps. While, there are loads of local ISPs at the residential-level including in metro cities that throttles Internet speeds below 512 Kbps.
Vodafone-owned YOU Broadband is also throttling speeds below 512 Kbps:
–Telcos have earlier lobbied to set post-FUP speeds as low as 64 Kbps: In February, in a reply to TRAI’s draft paper on FUP policy, Airtel went against the recommendations of ensuring 512kbps as minimum broadband speed for both mobile and fixed line subscribers. Airtel also stated that a “service provider should be free to throttle the speed to 64kbps after the expiry of assigned data limit to the customer”.
–Govt owned ISPs have upped their speeds: State-run telco BSNL had increased its Fair Usage Policy (FUP) speed limits in all postpaid broadband connections to 1 mbps, from the previous 512 kbps limit since last month.
What TRAI should have added
-Ensuring that telcos providing 3G/4G packs are not allowed to throttle speeds of high-valued data packs below 512 Kbps
-Ensure that Public WiFi providers both private and government-owned, also do not throttle any of their speeds below 10 Mbps.
-Propose a mandatory penalty or financial disincentive to telcos/ISPs who do not keep up with the recommendation or found to have violated the directive.
-Keep a check on wired broadband players by running quarterly/half yearly speed tests at Point of Presence (POPs) maintained by all ISPs in the country.
-Name and shame operators and ISPs that have violated the mandatory directions, so that consumers are aware of what their ISPs are up to.