The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has released its recommendations on “Roadmap to Promote Broadband Connectivity and Enhanced Broadband speed” as per which it has revised the minimum download speed of wired broadband to 2 Mbps from the present 512 Kbps.

In addition, TRAI also suggested incentives such as licence fee exemption to companies providing internet connectivity to push high speed fixed line internet connectivity across the country and a pilot Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) programme to fuel usage among rural users. TRAI also recommended providing backhaul connectivity on optical fibre using the BharatNet network with Service Level Agreement.

According to TRAI, the current broadband penetration in India is at about 55 per cent, significantly lower compared to China at 95 per cent, and European nations at around 95-115 per cent. Fixed broadband penetration in India is among the lowest in the world at only 1.69 per hundred inhabitants, compared with 44.6 in France, 42.8 in Korea and 42.7 in Germany. Despite rapid growth of mobile broadband subscribers in the last 4-5 years, India’s global ranking is not encouraging. Mobile broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants in India is 53.45 against 182.4 in Japan and 151.6 in the US.

To accelerate the growth of fixed-line broadband services in the country, licensees should be eligible for incentives, said TRAI. Initially, the proposed incentive, i.e. licence fee exemption, to the eligible licensees should be allowed for a minimum period of five years. The need for incentives beyond initial five years may be reviewed in the fifth year keeping in view the policy priorities and technological developments at that point of time. Companies pay 8 per cent of their adjusted gross revenue as licence fee for providing wired broadband services. TRAI added that the eligibility for incentives should be self-assessed by the concerned licencee as per specific criteria set by the regulator and a “robust verification mechanism” should be put in place to check the veracity of the working fixed-line broadband subscriber base declared by the eligible licensees.

Further, the regulator added that for any licencee to avail the proposed incentives, a net increase of minimum 15 per cent in working fixed-line broadband subscribers on year-on-year basis in the respective Licence Service Area (LSA) should be the eligibility criterion. But minimum 20 per cent of the targeted increase in number of working fixed-line broadband subscribers in the current quarter in the respective LSA should be achieved through net increase in the rural fixed-line broadband subscribers in that LSA. Provided further that the condition regarding net increase in the rural fixed-line broadband subscribers mentioned above should not be made applicable in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata service areas. Provided also that in-line with the Licence Fee (LF) payment obligations of licensees, the eligibility of individual licensees for incentives should also be assessed on quarterly basis, TRAI said.

The incentive for eligible licensees should be given in the form of LF exemption on the total revenue, the regulator said. It added that the proposed incentives should be linked to the revenue earned from fixed-line connections provided to subscribers. TRAI recommended a pilot DBT programme to push broadband usage in rural areas. For the pilot scheme, the government should consider reimbursing 50 per cent of the monthly fixed-line broadband subscription charges, subject to not more than Rs 200 per month per subscriber, to each rural fixed-line broadband subscriber through DBT platform, TRAI said. After ascertaining the practicability of the pilot DBT project in accelerating the growth of fixed-line broadband services, specifics of the scheme like eligibility criteria for beneficiaries, reimbursement amount, period of the scheme etc. should be worked out subsequently, the regulator suggested.