As the country gears up for launch of 3G services, which could potentially change the way phones are used, by consumers and advertisers alike, by bringing in a whole new wave of interactive and video content as part of value added services for telecom providers. However, as the various stakeholders involved in this area – from telecom providers to device manufacturers to content providers – are all lost in arguments about technology and revenue sharing, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman JS Sharma said that the regulator might play a role in resolving these issues to maximise efficiencies related to the use of the 3G spectrum.
Speaking at the Internet and Mobile Association of India’s (IAMAI) 5th India Digital Summit in Delhi on December 7, 2010, Sharma touched upon these subjects and also talked about the Government’s upcoming broadband plan, the details of which would be revealed in the near future. A key point that he was willing to reveal about it though, was that the Government planned to have a strong focus on rural areas by encouraging development with local cable operators as one example, who could collect and operate networks in more distressed conditions than the organised sector.
“The national broadband plan will be out soon, and we will extend broadband connections to every village in the country that has a population of more than 500 people. By 2012, every gram panchayat in the entire country will be connected to broadband Internet, and we will reach every village with more than 500 people as early as 2013,” he said.
For the Government, the key appeal to improving broadband access is that it is directly connected to economic growth and the development of other social indicators. Sharma likened it to building roads – another project he has been involved with for the Government. According to Professor Rajat Kathuria of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), there was a direct relation between broadband penetration and the GDP. The causation has been firmly established by the research carried out by ICRIER, which shows that for every 10 per cent increase in Internet access, the state GDP grew by 1.1 per cent. Kathuria added that this was well below the increase as a result of mobile phone connections, and felt that the reason for this was because of a lack of broadband access.
“Penetration is abysmal,” he said, adding, “The development of telecom can help all infrastructure development. Broadband access will change the frequency of access, and provide a definite boost, and once this hits critical mass, I believe it will be even more relevant to our development than the mobile phone has become.”
Sharma noted, “We have all the ingredients for explosive growth in place, but if we do not use them properly in concert with one another, then we cannot hope to grow. For now, 3G services will be concentrated in urban areas, while we will drive fiber optic lines to rural areas. The whole infrastructure needs to be built up, and the way to do this is through value added services. We will incentivise and regulate this to push the growth of Internet access on various platforms.”