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Bengaluru: Net is down, optical fibre cable snaps again

Take the risky aerial route or go underground to get bull-dozed by road-cutters. The choice is tough for telecom firms offering hi-speed, pan-city broadband through Optic Fibre Cables (OFCs). As the city prepares for 5G trials, isn’t it time the city gets at least its OFC policy right?

The policy vacuum is real. In the chaotic mess of dug-up roads and dangling wires, lakhs of Bengalureans glued to online classes and Work from Home (WFH) mandates face serious connectivity issues. For the telecom players and the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the time to quickly sort out their issues is now.

In a nutshell, the problem is this: To boost hi-speed connectivity, the telecom firms have to maintain and expand their OFC network. But with multiple public utility agencies digging up roads to lay power, water and gas lines, OFC cables often get pushed down in the priority list.

Risky aerial route
So they take the aerial route, and run into trouble. Pulled up by the Courts, the Palike gets into action mode, cutting off the cables and snapping internet connectivity to thousands of homes. Is there a way out of this cycle that benefits none?

Representing the telecom firms, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has been in talks with the BBMP for years. In the latest round held in March this year, some progress was made on the aerial front.

“At the meeting with the BBMP Chief Commissioner, we decided to beautify the aerial cables by straightening the sagging ones. But we have no control over many unknown players,” informs an Association official. Work had started on this in the Palike’s Mahadevapura zone before the pandemic second wave hit.

No RoW policy
The telecom players, he says, had asked the Palike to let them lay the cables underground. “But there is no Right of Way (RoW) policy for OFCs. As an alternative, we want to take the aerial route in a structured way. But there is no policy on this either.”

Freshly asphalted roads are not allowed to be dug up for a year. But this is apparently a rule only on paper. Residents across the city have been complaining about road-cuttings for water and sewage lines barely weeks after a road is tarred. Poor inter-agency coordination is blamed by all for the mess.

A labyrinth of utility lines crisscross the space underneath the city’s roads big and small. Besides BBMP, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited (Bescom), Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL), Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and a host of private telecom players have their pipelines and cables down under.

Underground mapping
Sorting this out calls for a scientific, precise, underground mapping based on geo-positioning and geo-informatics. Since the hi-tech city has only a pedestrian system to manage the mess, one agency digging to lay a line or repair a broken one inevitably hits another line run by a different agency.

Besides, the unending excavation of roads for multiple infrastructure works, the Namma Metro and flyover projects included, guarantees that the underground is always shifting. “If we get an advance notice of a week or two, we can shift the cables over-ground.” But taking the aerial route as a temporary measure is not easy. “On what do we carry the cables? Bescom does not allow us to use their poles.

We need to install our own poles, which the Palike will not permit. There needs to be a proper system in place. The Chief Secretary should sit with all the stakeholders and close this issue.”

Network expansion
The policy vacuum, poor inter-agency coordination and lack of clarity have slowed down the growth of hi-speed broadband connectivity in the city. Preferring anonymity, a telecom industry insider says, “No broadband operator is able to connect the entire city and provide an extensive network. Work has been stalled for years.” DeccanHerald

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