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Government announces broadband policy

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NEW DELHI: The government's broadband policy announced today seems to be old wine in a new bottle and given to hype with a number of important issues --- like total unbundling of copper loop and a reduction in the revenue sharing for a DTH licensee --- not touched upon.



Giving details of the policy, IT and communication minister Dayanidhi Maran said that the aim is to target six million broadband and Internet subscribers by end 2005 and 20 million broadband and 40 Internet subscribers by 2020.



The policy also envisages allowing various service providers to enter into franchisee agreements with cable TV network operators for providing broadband services and de-licensing of bandwidth for Wi-Fi systems. Both the facts had been reported by indiantelevision.com earlier.



The new policy also emphasizes that it is aimed at encouraging the creation and growth of infrastructure through various access technologies and can mutually co-exist with technologies like optic fibre, digital subscriber line open copper loop, cable TV networks and satellite and terrestrial wiring.



According to Maran, "The choice is left to the service provider.'' Maran also said that the demand for broadband is primarily conditioned and driven by Internet and PC penetration. It is recognised that the current level of Internet and broadband access in the country is low as compared to many Asian countries.



In India, the penetration of broadband, Internet and personal computer (PC) was 0.02 per cent, 0.4 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively at the end of December, 2003.



The policy defines broadband as an always-on data connection, supporting interactive services, including Internet access with minimum download speed of 256 Kbps per subscriber. The service providers are encouraged to select technologies and equipment offering higher data rate.



Further recognising that last mile copper loop is not a "bottleneck facility" for broadband services, access providers shall be free to enter into mutually agreed commercial arrangements for utilisation of available copper loop for expansion of broadband services including content. Use of brand name being treated as a part of the value shall be permitted in such commercial arrangements.



The new policy also envisages making available transponder capacity for very small aperture terminals (VSAT) services at competitive rates after taking into consideration security requirements.



According to Maran, the Department of Telecom (DoT), in consultation with the ministries, concerned would soon propose additional measures with regard to an open-sky policy for VSAT operators, who would be consulted while determining the transponder usage charges.



Interestingly, as reported by indiantelevision.com earlier, the policy states that various service providers shall be permitted to enter into franchisee agreements with cable TV network operators for providing broadband services. However, the licensee shall be responsible for compliance of the terms and conditions of the license.



In the case of DTH services, the service providers shall be permitted to provide receive-only-Internet service after obtaining an ISP license from Dot The DTH service providers will also be permitted to provide bi-directional Internet services after obtaining VSAT and ISP license from the Dot, but neither a DTH licensee's revenue share (of 10 per cent), nor the license fee has been reduced as recommended by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.



Bandwidth's cost and availability, including international bandwidth, is a major driver for broadband services. In a competitive environment, service providers are expected to take appropriate steps for making required bandwidth available in a time bound manner within their license framework.



In view of this, the policy states that the license fee for Infrastructure Provider category-II, end-to-end bandwidth providers, to six per cent of adjusted gross revenue (AGR). Further, the amount of bank guarantee for such service provider has also been reduced to Rs 50 million from Rs 1,000 million.



The other salient features of the New Broadband Policy are as follows:-



* Spread of fibre networks shall be emphasised keeping in view the long-term perspective as they are able to provide huge amounts of bandwidth in the last mile as well as provide a true IP and converged network that can deliver high quality voice, data and video.

* It has been decided to delicence 2.40-2.48 GHz band for low power outdoor use on non-protection, non-interference and non-exclusive basis.

* The 5.15-5.35 GHz band shall be de-licensed for the indoor use of low power Wi-Fi systems. For outdoor use, the band 5.25-5.35 GHz shall be de-licensed in consultation with Department of Space while delicensing in the band 5.15-5.25 GHz would be considered after the process of vacation.

* In order to simplify SACFA/WPC clearance, the VSAT operators shall be allowed to start the installation process for VSAT terminals after a period of one month of submitting all relevant documents to WPC for SACFA/WPC clearance wherever the total height of such installation is less than five meters above the rooftop of an authorised building. In the case of Receive-Only VSAT terminals and DTH with Receive-Only-Internet, no SACFA/WPC clearance will be required wherever the total height of such installation is less than five metres above the rooftop of an authorised building.

* A transparent scheme is being outlined separately for time-bound frequency allocation, siting clearance and wireless licensing by removing the cumbersome procedures, computerization and by setting predetermined standards.

* To keep pace with technological advances, throughput and antenna size for VSATs are proposed to be reviewed periodically.

* Commercial VSAT service providers having ISP license shall be permitted use of same hub station and remote station to provide Internet service directly to the subscribers. Further this remote stations shall be permitted to be used as a distribution point to provide Internet services to multiple independent subscribers.

* The role of other facilitators such as electricity authorities, departments of IT of various state governments, departments of local self governments, panchayats, departments of health and family welfare, departments of education is very important to carry the advantage of broadband services to the users particularly in rural areas.

* The government has assigned a very high priority to indigenous manufacture of broadband related equipment and shall endeavour to work closely with the concerned ministries and manufacturers associations so that the equipment are made available at an affordable price.

* Simplification of various procedural matters regarding clearance before some licenses is given.

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