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Parliamentary IT report cites high charge by Antrix as hurdle to satellite connectivity

Expensive bandwidth stands as the main constraint to connectivity in remote areas

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MUMBAI: Despite the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) citing high cost of satellite-delivered bandwidth to reach remote areas for providing broadband services, parliament’s committee on IT has observed that prohibitive cost should not come in the way of availing of the services as adequate funds are available, including those from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).

Earlier also DoT special secretary N Sivasailam blamed the turf war between the ministry and Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) for delays in taking connectivity to far-flung areas.

While in phase I of BharatNet project, satellite connectivity was taken up only in one gram panchayat (GP), but in phase II, more than 6407 GPs are planned to be connected. 4938 GPs are in North Eastern Region, 885 GPs in Jammu & Kashmir and 584 GPs are in the rest of the country. 1407 GPs were supposed to be provided with broadband connectivity through satellite by June 2018 by BSNL and the rest were to be completed by December 2018 through a bidding process. BSNL was expected to have completed connectivity to 1407 GPs by now.

Shortage of satellite bandwidth and huge operational cost charged by "Antrix" are cited as the impediments associated with connectivity through satellite. The high operational cost is due to ISRO’s monopoly and the DoT has informed the committee that with the availability of more bandwidth in two to three years, sufficient capacity shall be available.

“The capital cost of satellite is very little. But the recurring cost is prohibitive. We provide satellite connectivity on a very small bandwidth to Andaman and Nicobar and it costs us something like Rs 300 crore for that small population to be able to pay for bandwidth. It is typically because of the monopoly of ISRO. In India, satellite communication is 300 times more expensive than in the US. So, satellite is prohibitive. We are going for it only in areas where it is not technically feasible to do any other thing,” DoT secretary stated.

Areas like Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and the North Eastern states have had basic challenges halting the project’s timely implementation. “The committee recommends that sincere efforts be made to achieve the target of providing connectivity through satellite to all the identified 6407 GPs covering above states,” the recommendation adds.

When the committee questioned the DoT on the issue of availability of sufficient bandwidth, the representative of the department stated, “We want higher bandwidth for which the USOF and the Bharatnet can make the payment. But the bandwidth is not available. They are going to put two satellites in the orbit this year. With that more bandwidth would be available. But right now, there is a crunch of bandwidth with ISRO in these difficult areas, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir and North-East. So, the issue with the ISRO is availability of bandwidth and the cost is very high. It is higher if we compare it with the international rates.”

Since heavy investment is involved, the committee even questioned if providing connectivity through satellite will be sustainable in the long run. To this the department stated that with the availability of more bandwidth in two to three years of time especially through High Throughput satellites in Ka-Ku band and Ka-ka band from DOS/ISRO sufficient capacity shall be available. ISRO is planning to launch series of satellites in near future to make available the enhanced satellite bandwidth.

BharatNet project can enhance the lives of thousands giving them access to information available online and enhanced communication with the privileged part of the country. The ISRO and DoT issue needs to be resolved on priority basis to put an end to the delayed implementation.

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