Free access to data stored locally, fee for those accessed from other nations

A strategy based on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) establishing data centres and providing free access to data stored locally and charging for data accessed from other countries has been suggested by experts to generate resources for accelerating broadband growth in the country.

A study by a team comprising Ashwin Gumaste, convener, Gigabit Networking Laboratory, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay; Peeyush Agrawal, executive director, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL), Mumbai; and M. K. Purohit, general manager-broadband, MTNL, Mumbai has come up with ‘Global Content Balancing' for broadband use. It is tied to the creation of a business environment for overseas content providers to host their content in India. For this, the dominant service provider in a region should invest in setting up data centres.

Now, a large chunk of the operating expenditure of ISPs goes towards buying international bandwidth, and more than 80 per cent of the content accessed by users in India is hosted in other countries, says their study.

The ‘diversion' of operational revenue especially eats into their capacity to develop the last-mile infrastructure — the last part of the cable that actually links the user with the network. The last-mile infrastructure is a weak link in the network, “most cities in India have negligible or no network infrastructure to support the last-mile. The best case is the presence of ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, a type of broadband communications technology), and in few places some degree of rudimentary wireless technology. The recent 3G auction has resulted in a huge investment to buy the licence — but with very limited actual deployment.”

ISPs would be better positioned to create last-mile infrastructure for offering high-speed broadband services if they adopt this model, the study suggests. The cost of accessing content at higher speeds locally would be less, thus providing a boost to the promotion of value-added services like IPTV.

Professor Gumaste told The Hindu that the model was based on a system prevalent in the West. “We are not asking ISPs to mirror sites on their own, but just asking them to create an environment of data centres, whereby it gives a tremendous advantage to the content providers to put their content in the ISP owned data-centres. It is a symbiotic relationship: the ISPs save on operating expenses since international bandwidth is now freed up, while the content owners go closer to their customer, thus giving the consumer a better quality of experience.”

The problem was that without a well-developed access network and at the current high operating expenditure levels, ISPs were unable to lower the price of broadband or offer unlimited broadband plans offering subscribers high data speeds.

A simulation exercise to test this model based on the situation pertaining to the Mumbai MTNL was done as part of the study. It revealed that this model would bring better results financially to an ISP than the existing way of offering broadband services. However, over a period of time, 50-70 per cent of the content “must be local and on a par with other developed countries” for the proposed model to work.

Professor Gumaste said the Gigabit Networking Laboratory was setting up two data-centres in Mumbai for MTNL. “There have been talk of setting up more than two data-centres, but at this time, we have one data-centre operational [at Worli]. Another one in New Mumbai was being made operational shortly.”

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