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Trai to government: liberalise broadband norms

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NEW DELHI: Concerned about slow uptake of broadband in the country, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) today suggested that the government review some of the norms, especially those relating to last mile access by lessening state-controlled organizations monopoly.

Fazed by broadband penetration numbers --- slightly over half a million broadband connections against the targeted three million by the end of 2005 --- Trai today recommended to the department of telecom the following:

# Accept an earlier recommendation on unbundling the local loop or last mile access.

# Reconsider other fiscal measures like tax concessions for broadband equipment and services.

The aforementioned suggestions by Trai, amongst some others like allowing DTH service providers to offer two-way services like satellite delivered broadband Internet, had not been accepted by the Indian government when it announced the New Broadband Policy in 2004

According to the regulator, the suggestions had been made to give a fillip to the growth of Internet and broadband in India.

As per the Broadband Policy issued by the government, a target of three million subscriber base was to be achieved by all the service providers together by the end of year 2005.

Half of this target was to be met by public sector undertakings (PSU) or government-controlled organizations like Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam LTD (BSNL), which is Indias largest telecom company in terms of infrastructure and reach.

Trai has said that progress reports submitted by various service providers suggest there are only 0.61 million broadband subscribers end September.

Out of this, only 0.26 million subscribers belong to PSUs, while 0.35 million subscribers are serviced by private sector companies.

Hence the actual achievement by various operators together is much below the policy target of three million for December 2005, which is likely to be missed,Trai said in a letter shot off to the government today, indicating that more de-control and financial incentives are needed.

Local loop or last mile access can be defined as the copper line or fibre connecting the local node to homes or the line that enters a subscribers home from a pole.

At the moment, BSNL and MTNL own majority share --- in a monopoly situation almost --- of last mile access in Indian cities and towns for historical reasons as they have been providing fixed line telephony to Indian homes from the time when private players had not even entered the Indian telecom market.

According to Trai, many of the competitive service providers have mentioned that the broadband penetration target would be difficult to achieve unless incumbents government-mandated monopoly is broken, allowing private players

to at least use that infrastructure to deliver various services, including broadband.

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