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DoT wants to make Broadband Internet a basic right in new National Broadband Policy

The Department of Telecom (DoT) is planning to make Broadband Internet a basic right as part of National Broadband Policy that it plans to introduce in the next 100 days, reports The Economic Times.

The report states that the new policy will include broadband among basic necessities like education and health, and work towards new legislation of ‘Right to Broadband’. Do note that India passed Right to Education bill in 2009, but has not created a Right to Health bill as yet. It is not clear if the policy will specify different requirements for wired and wireless broadband.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had started a consultation process earlier this year, for setting a minimum download speeds of 1Mbps for 3G connections and 56Kbps for 2G connections, in April this year. It had also changed the definition of broadband to refer to connections with speeds over 512kbps in December last year. It is not clear if these factors will also be changed as part of the new policy. This is important since India has one of the slowest high-speed broadband adoption internationally according to Akamai.

One ministry to control them all

The policy is also expected to look at ways to increase broadband penetration and convergence of various platforms like cable TV, optical fibre, wireless connection through spectrum, VSAT and satellite. Currently these platforms fall under different departments. Cable TV for example, comes under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, while satellite related issues are majorly governed by the Department of Space. With the new policy, DoT will have more control over various communication and broadcast technologies.

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While this might make it easier for a company to launch all these services in one go, it increases the risk of every communication medium being affected in case DoT comes out with bad policies in the future.

Aakash project to be revived?

The policy is proposed to look at provisions for providing affordable broadband equipments and devices for end consumer use. It is not clear what the implication of such a policy would be. Does this mean Aakash tablets will be distributed to anyone who does not have an Internet connected device as of now?

UPA II government had also started a plan to distribute free mobilephones to 6 million families Below Poverty Line (BPL) through its Bharat mobile scheme. DoT could be possibly looking at such a scheme with smartphones.

What about Net Neutrality?

It will be interesting to see how ‘Right to broadband’ deals with net neutrality. In US, attempts to pass the net neutrality failed in court due to the use of the term ‘Internet Service Providers’ to describe broadband companies as opposed to ‘telecommunication carriers’, according to TheVerge. Referring to these companies as the latter would have implied that Internet is a utility, much like water and electricity. We hope DoT takes this into account in the policy, especially since telecom operators want to kill net neutrality in India.

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Broadband providers on the other hand would be hoping that DoT lowers the licensing fees in the policy. Under the new Unified Licence regime, DoT has proposed to collect eight per cent of the annual revenues as licence fee from ISPs. At present ISPs do not have to pay revenue share. The Internet Service Providers Association of India had written to the PMO seeking its intervention, pointing out that this fee would hurt the industry that is focusing on rolling out broadband services. PMO had then asked DoT to review its decision to impose licence fee on ISPs.

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