Hari Ranjan Rao, Joint Secretary (telecom), DoT, Ministry of Communications

For a country like India, widespread broadband access is essential to reduce the digital divide and enhance socio-economic development. To ensure effective deployment of broadband across the country, the roll-out of optic fibre cable (OFC)-based networks is pivotal. Fiberisation will also be crucial in making the Digital India vision a reality. In a recent webinar organised by the Cellular Operators Association of India and the India Mobile Congress, Hari Ranjan Rao, joint secretary (telecom), Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Ministry of Communications, delivered the keynote address in which he talked about the significance of fibre expansion for India, the initiatives being taken by the government to promote OFC roll-outs, and the future outlook. Excerpts…

Today, mobile communications and telephony have become the backbone of our daily lives. The strides made by India in the telecom space in recent years have been phenomenal. Almost 96 per cent of the population has been covered by mobile technology, with the majority accessing 4G. In the coming years, we will see more and more people using digital media for communication and other purposes. As a result, the load on spectrum to carry data and voice will be enormous. And naturally, it will have an impact on the quality of service. It is pertinent to note that spectrum is a natural resource and has its own set of limitations. Thus, just like other countries, India too will have to adopt fibre in a big way. We will have to give a big push to the roll-out of optic fibre-based fixed line broadband connections so as to take off some load from spectrum. I believe that the future belongs to fixed line broadband connectivity and optic fibre-based communications. Spectrum, of course, will continue to have its own unique place.

Policy impetus

Undoubtedly, fixed line broadband and optic fibre penetration in India is not adequate as far as households and individual citizens are concerned. Thus, it becomes important for the government to issue certain policy prescriptions to improve the situation. To this end, a new initiative, called the National Broadband Mission, was launched in December 2019. The mission aims to bring very high speed broadband access to every household in India. To achieve its objective, the mission envisages not only expediting the roll-out of optic fibre to every nook and corner of the country, but also enhancing tower density and fiberisation. Creating a national fibre grid will help in mapping the entire fibre installed in the country. The mission also seeks to create awareness about the use of optic fibre as a mode of communication for 5G. The roll-out of 5G will be a game changer for India.

Right-of-way status

There are various reasons why the industry has not been able to proliferate fixed line broadband in a big way. Key amongst them is the challenge related to securing right of way (RoW). We will have to change our mindset on how RoW permissions are granted to telecom companies and on the charges that are demanded. To this end, DoT formulated and notified the RoW Rules, 2016. The aim was to sanitise and simplify the way RoW permissions are granted. I am happy to announce that more than 16 states have adopted these rules and several others are following suit. The fundamental shift that is needed to ease the RoW process is to make the states and the local bodies realise that laying OFC and providing access to telecom infrastructure – both of which will form the backbone of digitalisation – will ultimately bring numerous benefits to the states and their cities. Therefore, the RoW grant process should not be looked at as a source of income/revenue but as something to be supported so that a larger population can enjoy access to high quality telecom connectivity.

Positive outlook

I wish to express my optimism about the future investments that are expected to come into this sector. We know that in the past few years the sector has gone through significant churn and stress from a financial point of view. However, new-generation companies, such as start-ups, will take over the adoption of 5G and other technologies. Such options will unleash the real talent that is available in India. India is going to be a leader in terms of both adoption and use of technology, benefiting a large population. I am extremely hopeful and very optimistic about India’s technology future. And DoT will keep on playing a very positive, significant and proactive role in terms of giving everybody the space to develop and innovate.