Future of Broadband in India
The mother of all announcements proceeded the last parliamentary session. That was the day when the broadband policy was to be announced.
Typical in the style of the government, it was delayed and the unknown faces in the group of ministers decided and sealed our fates as to how Indians would access Internet. Lofty ideals had been proclaimed and a lot of noise was made in the media about the broadband access. Everyone conveniently chose to forget that dialup charges remain the highest in the world still. That is another sob story.
The broadband policy typically defined the broadband as “always on” connection with speeds over and above 256 kbps. Other ways to access the same could either be through ADSL, VSAT or cable. Unfortunately, the recommendations of TRAI were brushed off to protect the monopoly of BSNL and ever-lecherous sarkari officials who are used to plush comforts. Chief among them was the unbundling of the local loop. In lay mans terms, anyone with an ISP license and bandwidth could utilize the unused copper cables and start offering Internet services. Given the spread of BSNL, duplicating infrastructure makes no business sense and hijacks the cost factor. It would have much more sense to unbundle the local loop and allow unlimited competition. This would have ensured that tariffs fall and the end consumer would have benefited.
Another factor that is going to increase the cost of the access is the high service tax. That works out to 10%+ at the present rates. TRAI had recommended the tax holiday for 5 years on the lines of our IT industry. However, that was not to be and it was shot down by the ministry of Finance. Another botched attempt to make Bharat Mata an IT superpower.
VSAT operators could upload or download only at 64 kbps until recently. All this was in the name of national security! It is now that they have been allowed at 512 kbps. This means that any operator offering DTH television can also offer internet services. This would have been a boon to those places, which are yet inaccessible to landlines in far off places. However, a major drawback is that these DTH companies can only offer uplink from Indian satellites. These Indian satellites are expensive and excess capacity exists only on the foreign ones. Another asinine issue, which would increase the costs of access.
The major reason is that consumers have not learnt to speak as a group. This would force these companies to look in the complaints and resolve it. No one likes bad press and I’d suggest make your voice heard.
One major factor for the high cost of the access is the high cost of bandwidth. Infact this country is rolling in excess capacity but has not been utilized so far. Part of the reason is that traditional players like VSNL are sitting over the landing rights of submarine cables and hence act as choke points. Even if one wants to scale up, they are forced to narrow down their requirements. For example, if Sify wants to increase capacity as per its requirements, they lease the bandwidth from VSNL. Hence, VSNL being a competitor itself refuses to allot excess bandwidth. This has a trickle down effect. Often this results in shared bandwidth that many consumers complain of. It is not that companies like Sify are not to be blamed. In the name of greed, they sign off more people than their outdated infrastructure could support. Recently, many ISPs were in spat with BSNL who refused to give them the rights to sell of bandwidth leased from it to corporate customers. In effect, these ISPs were acting as intermediaries. BSNL again decided to protect its monopoly.
As for the home consumer, he is expendable. It is on THEIR terms that we get to access internet. The penalty clauses that come with the downtime of the link or withholding of payments to the defaulting provider, is only available to the corporate customers. The home user has to suffer anyway.
Hence, it becomes imperative to talk the morons into accepting and improving the service levels. Take the matter to the highest level possible if you are not satisfied with the service levels. Never stop complaining if the service levels fall until they are resolved. For everything else, there is a consumer court. However, make sure that you have the facts right and a watertight case.
Broadband still remains a distant dream and everyone is waiting for Reliance to offer broadband access. That is another story.