Trai: Optical fibre network project caught in red tape

Trai said broadband penetration and the multi-layered structure of BBNL needs to be overhauled, highlighting that India ranks below Bhutan and Sri Lanka in terms of broadband penetration

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Friday criticised Bharat Broadband Network (BBNL), the special vehicle for developing the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project to connect 2.5 lakh villages by December 2016, stating that it was lacking in decision making and the project was caught in red tape.

“There is a disconnect between the agency (BBNL) for implementation of the project and stakeholders including private operators who would ultimately utilise the fibre for provision of broadband of the consumer. This has practically rendered BBNL dysfunctional, defeating the purpose for which it was set-up to make independent and quick decisions,” Trai said in its set of recommendations on the subject of ‘Delivering Broadband Quickly’.

BBNL, a special-purpose vehicle was set up by the government in 2011 and was meant to expedite the NOFN project that has missed deadline and been revised several times due to coordination issues among the agencies and other problems, such as right of way (RoW). The regulator has said that multi-layered structure for decision making, for NOFN, is not suitable and structure needs immediate overhaul. The NOFN project aims to spread broadband across 2.5 lakh village panchayats by the end of 2016 but has missed its target of completing roll out in first 50,000 panchayats by March 2015.

Trai in its recommendations said broadband penetration and the multi-layered structure of BBNL involved in the decision making for the sector needs to be overhauled, highlighting that India ranked below Bhutan and Sri Lanka in terms of broadband penetration. “India ranks 125th for fixed broadband penetration. Some of our neighbours like Bhutan and Sri Lanka are ahead of us. We need to seriously think about it,” Trai said.
It pointed towards RoW for speedy broadband penetration with single window clearance at all the level of states and the central government as reported by FE on April 8. “All such clearnces have to be time-bound so that telecom service providers (TSPs)  and infrastructure providers can move rapidly to execute project”.

It also recommended constituting a National RoW Policy to ensure uniformity in costs and processes. Trai also proposed that the licence fee on the revenues earned from fixed line should be exempted for five years to promote the use of fixed-line broadband.

In the wireless or mobile broadband segment, India is ranked at 113th with a penetration of 3.2 per 100 inhabitants.

The regulator also suggested the need to revamp government bodies involved in decision making that impact spread of broadband including that of Wireless Planning Commission (WPC) — custodian of spectrum at DoT. Trai said WPC should be converted into an independent body by de-linking it from DoT and suggested that it can be converted into a statutory body reporting to Parliament or anyother existing statutory body.

The regulator has also called for an audit of spectrum held by all the bodies including public sector companies and government organisation to check if it is being used efficiently. The regulator said present usage of spectrum available with government agencies should be reviewed, starting within six months, so as to identify the possible areas where spectrum can be refarmed for efficient use.

Trai expressed concern on government delaying guidelines on spectrum trading and sharing saying that “it is strongly urged that a decision is taken no later than three months from now”. It also recommended that the cable operators should be allowed to function as resellers of internet service provider licence and digitisation of cable services should be implemented in Tier 2 or Tier 3 cities in a time-bound manner.

Trai’s recipe to increase broadband penetration
* WPC should be converted into a independent body
* Align spectrum bands with globally harmonised bands to achieve inteference free co-existence and economies of scale
* Lay down a clear roadmap for spectrum management
* Audit by an independent agency of all allocated spectrum
* Single window clearnce for all Right of Way (RoW) proposals all state and central govenrment
* Implementing NOFN project on Centre-State PPP mode by involving state governments and the private sector
* Single window, time bound clearance be encouraged for installations of towers

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First published on: 18-04-2015 at 00:38 IST