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India’s broadband dream – Powered by fibre

The current COVID-19 pandemic has been a real eye opener for all of us to take cognizance of how we function as a society and the need for sustainable living habits rather than excesses.

During these trying times, technology has emerged as a true enabler in keeping people connected and informed not only in our big cities but also in our rural hinterlands. Voice and data services have been at the forefront in the fight against the pandemic and has allowed people and businesses to retain some sense of normalcy during these times. The emerging broadband ecosystem in our country has also played its part in providing vital connectivity to millions of employees who are dedicatedly working from home and putting up the man hours required for vital business continuity.

A few key points that will help the overall growth of a reliable data network across the country backed by future-ready fibre tehnology:

Infrastructure revamp. COVID-19 has changed the way we work. Lockdown has forced us all to work from home. More and more executives are getting used to digital meetings. Business people have understood that Team/Zoom/Blue Jeans meetings are going to be new normal, not only for overseas meetings but local meetings as well. Data consumption is also at an all-time high. According to some estimates data consumption has surged by 30 percent on a pan India level after the lockdown.

While this situation has created plenty of new opportunities, at the same time it has created an intense load on the existing networks. There is an urgent need to upgrade telecom networks and augment the telecom infrastructure to cope with the spike in demand. There have been spikes of 70 percent in online traffic in urban clusters of Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

There is an urgent need of intervention from the central government to bring all the states on board with ROW policy 2016 to accelerate setting up of desired upgradation and augmentation of telecom infrastructure. DoT should come forward to help in augmentation of infrastructure through alignment of all the 36 states policies and guidelines to ROW Policy 2016. Currently only 16 states have aligned their policies and guidelines with the ROW Policy 2016.

Such anomalies in policies will create lot of problems in rolling out new technologies like 5G and IoT.

Government and private partnership programs. Government and private partnership programs are important in the current scenario when the industry is mostly cash stripped and there is hardly any liquidity in the market. It is not possible for a private player to make huge investments in a project in far flung areas, which are important for government from overall country growth perspective.

Private partnership also brings in desired expertise on the table. Opening up the dark fibre fibre networks and areas with under-utilized spectrum is also another aspect that the government should urgently look into. As it has been proven over the years, mobile and data communication has the potential to change mindsets and alleviate a largely poor population with means of sustenance.

Opening up of the network to employ private players to leverage services. Government should open up its network and lease it to the private telecom operators. This will ensure increased revenue for the government and will reduce CapEx cost of telecom operators who are already under tremendous financial pressure, mainly Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, who have been told to pay more than Rs 102,000 crore in spectrum user charges, license fees, interest, and penalty — confirmed in a dismissal of review petitions on the adjusted gross revenue (AGR).

Fibre to be treated like utility services such as gas, electricity, water, etc. Internet and communication services are currently backed by a fibre network and is almost as essential as any other utility service such as gas, electricity, and water. High speed internet is extremely important for innovation, economic growth, and social communication in a country and is a real measure of its competitiveness. Treatment of fibre as utility ensures its reach to the most common, poorest, and rural communities and bridges the digital divide among different levels of society.

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