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Gram panchayats in India to be Wi-fi hotspots

19 February 2014

OneWorld South Asia

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Broadband adoption across the country is critical to unleash the next telecom transformation, driving economic growth and allowing delivery of services to masses.

New Delhi: M F Farooqui, Chairman, Telecom Commission and Secretary DoT, today said that an affordable broadband, relevant content and enabling regulations are required to foster the broadband transformation. He shared that while Ministry of Communications & IT is taking care of CAPEX for NOFN deployment, the Ministry of Rural Development will drive the OPEX for rural roll out broadband ecosystem.

He emphasized the need of bridging the need for digital divide and shared the plans of building 2,50,000 gram panchayats as Wifi hotspots that will generate demand, local language applications and will bring disruptive level change in the way local entrepreneurship will drive adoption of broadband. Speaking at the CII Broadband Summit 2014, Secretary-Telecom recognized the challenges in Broadband adoption, specifically in rural areas. He invited industry to suggest and participate in developing the right models to fully leverage the NOFN infrastructure. He also suggested that the dated Indian Telegraph Act of 1875 needs to be replaced by a fresh Act to recognize the current and future developments in technology and telecom.

On CII request of reduction of spectrum usage charges, he hinted at a gradual reduction of the spectrum charges over next few years. He said that auction is one of the way of acquiring spectrum. N Ravi Shankar, Special Secretary and Administrator, USO Fund, DoT & CMD, Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL) said that the speed thrills, but absence of speed kills the drive in case of broadband adoption. He added that connecting societies in rural areas will require partnership at public, private and panchayat level. Kiran Karnik, Chairman, CII National Committee on Telecom & Broadband was forthright in his assessment of challenges facing industry and broadband growth. One of the key issues highlighted by Karnik was high taxes and huge debt burden of the industry.

According to Karnik, this has limited the telecom industry’s ability to invest in infrastructure. He added that viable and sustainable business models need to be developed for real broadband reach. Building on the need for infrastructure, Dr Nikolai Dobberstein, Senior Partner, A T Kearney added that model of 80% of operator investments being directed at acquiring spectrum rather than building infrastructure is not sustainable and it should be the other way round.

M F Farooqui also released a CII- AT Kearney report on “Roadmap for implementation of Indian Telecom Sector’s Vision 2020”. Mohit Rana, Partner, A.T. Kearney elaborating on the report, said that delivering to 2020 expectations of “high volumes, low tariffs and high speeds” will not be possible without some bold steps to improve industry economics and investment in Fixed-line infrastructure development. Similar views were expressed by R.K. Upadhyay, Chairman and Managing Director BSNL, who also elaborated on the role played by BSNL in broadband growth in India.

The summit with theme “Connecting Society: Delivering Services” was attended by representatives from government, leaders from the Indian telecom, IT and electronics, and also senior government representatives from across 22 developing nations. Some other speakers were from BSNL, Intel, Aircel, Cisco, EMC, Fortis and Ericsson focused on growth opportunities in telecom business and necessary imperatives to effectively use Broadband to deliver services.

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