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Spanner in BSNL network plan

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By JAYATI GHOSE
  • Published 10.05.11
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New Delhi, May 9: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is not keen on Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) rolling out the national optical fibre network to provide high-speed Internet connection across India.

The network rollout project is part of the national broadband plan, being finalised by the telecom ministry, to provide high-speed Internet connections to 160 million households by 2014.

Trai has argued that the move will be anti-competitive.

The department of telecom (DoT) had proposed that BSNL should act as the executing agency to roll out the network with government funding. The project is estimated to cost Rs 60,000 crore.

“BSNL is currently one of the service providers. If it is the executing agency, including the maintenance of the network, there is a serious problem of the lack of level-playing field vis-a-vis other service providers. This will be critical since the optical fibre network is envisaged as providing non-discriminatory access. There is a serious risk of anti-competitive behaviour setting into the network management,” Trai said in a letter to the DoT.

“Already, BSNL has been registering losses in the last few quarters and there is a need for the PSU to utilise all its energies in restoring the health of the enterprise,” the regulator said.

BSNL, which reported a loss of 1,823 crore for the year ended March 2010, is likely to suffer 50 per cent higher losses for 2010-11.

Another project of the state-run operator — to provide an optical fibre network for the defence forces in return for the spectrum they vacate — has been getting delayed over the last two years because of escalating costs.

Trai has suggested setting up an independent 100 per cent government-owned holding company, National Optic Fibre Agency, to deliver the network.

Moreover, with the DoT not keen to define the minimum broadband speed to be offered by the service providers, the government’s broadband plan could get botched.

While the regulator wants the minimum speed to be increased to 512 kilobits per second (Kbps) from 256 Kbps, the DoT does not want to specify it in the policy.

“It is universally recognised that the minimum speed according to the definition of broadband in India is very low at 256 Kbps. What has been proposed by the authority as part of the national broadband plan is a minimum download speed of 512 Kbps immediately and 2 megabits per second by January 1, 2015. It is absolutely essential that this definition is adopted; failing which, there will be serious service quality issues,” Trai said.

The government has failed to meet its target of 20 million broadband connections by 2010. At present, there are around 12 million connections.

The Centre aims at inclusive growth through broadband, which will enable the use of education, medical treatment and entertainment-related applications besides e-governance and citizen-centric services, particularly in the rural areas.