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Summary: TRAI recommendations for broadband speed and connectivity

The regulator laid out several ways for the government to improve internet speeds and telecom infrastructure.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on August 30 recommended to the Indian government that the definition of broadband should be set to 2Mbps, an increase by a factor of four from the current definition of 512Kbps. Additionally, it recommended three separate classes of fixed-line broadband definitions (in India, 4G mobile connections are also defined as broadband):

  • Basic Broadband – between 2–50Mbps.
  • Fast Broadband – Between 50–300Mbps.
  • Super-fast Broadband – Over 300Mbps.

The recommendations hand the government yet another roadmap on how to roll out broadband connections more rapidly in more parts of the country. The first such plan by TRAI was made in 2015, in a consultation process titled “Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?”. The government’s plans on rolling out broadband have paled in front of Jio’s rapid rollout of its cheaper wireless network from 2016 onwards, with projects like BharatNet and public WiFi hotspots lagging behind. While the impact of the current recommendations remains to be seen, they serve as an important reminder of the work to be done to improve broadband access in India.

Summary of Recommendations

The telecom regulator made the following recommendations, aside from the broadband speed redefinition:

  • Revenue definition: To reduce AGR due stress in the industry, TRAI reiterated an earlier recommendation that non-telecom activities should be exempted from the definition of Applicable Gross Revenue, to encourage telecom operators and ISPs to spend more on their networks. Passive and active infrastructure sharing should be allowed, TRAI recommended.
  • Enhancing speed: To enhance the speed of internet connectivity, TRAI recommended that spectrum that is assigned internationally for mobile communications should be frequently made available to telcos. “For this purpose, an annual calendar to offer the available IMT spectrum for assignment to service providers should be published in advance,” TRAI said. BharatNet fibre cables should be made available to ISPs and telcos to enhance backhaul bandwidth, TRAI recommended. For wireless operators, spectrum for backhaul should be made available “on demand and in time bound manner,” the regulator said.
    • Spectrum availability: The regulator said that mid-band spectrum (3300 MHz to 3600 MHz) should be sold as soon as possible, as should mm-wave spectrum that is being used by some telcos around the world for supporting 5G signals.
  • Phone categorisation: Manufacturers must be required to disclose which standard they comply with in order to indicate to customers what speed they will receive.
  • Right of Way: The government should come out with the National Right of Way Policy, TRAI recommended, and added that a model law for states should be formulated. Existing committees and officials who are working on broadband enhancement should have their roles broadened to address this issue, along with district-level issues from various departments. A national right of way portal should be created for a single-window clearance process, with fully digitised application and approval process. A uniform dig-and-restoration charge should be formulated in consultation with the government.
  • Common Ducts: Common ducts are pathways for network cabling and other such infrastructure that are accessible to multiple telcos. TRAI recommended that for five years, the creation of such ducts should be sponsored by the central government, and a central entity should be created, the Common Ducts and Posts Development Agency (CDPDA). Infrastructure should also be shared across sectors, TRAI recommended.
  • License fee exemption: ISPs and telcos who increase their penetration by 10% in certain telecom circles should get a license fee exemption for fixed-line broadband, TRAI recommended. However, this comes with the rider that outside of the three urban circles, at least 20% of a 15% year-on-year increase in broadband subscribers should come from rural areas.
  • GIS map with coverage: Fixed-line broadband coverage should be shown in a web-based map, TRAI recommended. This should be done on service providers’ websites.
  • DBT pilot: The regulator recommended that a direct benefit transfer project for fixed-line broadband should be explored. In rural areas where there is enough supply of fixed-line broadband but not enough demand, TRAI proposes that the government subsidise 50% of the monthly tariff (up to Rs 200) and proceed with the project based on the results of this pilot.

TRAI recommendations in line with best practices: BIF

The Broadband India Forum on September 1 praised the recommendations in a press release. “Categorisation of fixed broadband services based on download speeds into Basic, Fast and Super-fast, are in consonance with international best practices and would help consumers have a uniform and valid comparison between offerings to make informed decisions regarding their purchase/subscriptions, based on their requirements and usage,” BIF said in a press release.

“Given that our present broadband speeds are significantly low in comparison to international good practices, revising the minimum broadband speed to 2 Mbps is an essential step, both as per the national policy mandates as well as global benchmarks,” BIF president TV Ramachandran said.

“Empirical evidence suggests that cross-sector infrastructure sharing lowers deployment costs, and increases market entry, making markets more competitive, while also resulting in massive savings in Right of Way as well as repairs and maintenance costs,” BIF said.

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