The high cost, usage-based pricing model, widely used by Indian Internet service providers, acts as a major impediment to the growth of broadband in the country, telecommunication experts have said.

Besides this ‘flawed’ pricing model, improper regulatory policies and poor network operations by the service providers have led to a situation in which the demand for broadband is either flat or unsatisfactory, unlike in other parts of the world where it has been rising significantly, says Ashwin Gumaste, James R. Isaac Chair, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay.

Dr. Gumaste, who dealt with these points in a paper in the recent issue of the IEEE Communications Magazine, told The Hindu that facilitating the growth of a ‘last mile’ optical fibre-based network was the most important step that needed to be taken to promote broadband growth. ‘Last mile’ denotes the final part of the network that is used for the delivery of service at the subscriber-end. A mix of options such as wireless, copper cables and fibre itself could be offered at the ‘last inch,’ the point where the service is actually delivered. Telecom companies could tie up with multi-system operators (like cable TV companies) or last-mile cable operators to facilitate a cheaper broadband.

The paper, co-authored by A. Dhar and P. Gokhale (IIT-Bombay), underlined the point that broadband costs had remained prohibitively high for a large segment of the population and needed to be brought down through a combination of measures.

India has ‘arguably’ one of the most expensive broadband tariff regimes in the world, it says. These are generally governed by usage limits in terms of data volume (per megabyte), and involved an extra payment for exceeding the specified limit. Unrestricted broadband access generally tends to be more expensive and is not popular in the country.

It is the corporate sector that uses broadband the most. Its spread is limited when it comes to individual or home-users, who tend to avoid using bandwidth-hogging multimedia services such as Voice over Internet Protocol, video-on-demand, streaming media, teleconferencing and online gaming because of the costs involved, and confine themselves to browsing, e-mail and chatting online.

Asked whether the government needs to revise its broadband policy, Dr. Gumaste said: “I believe that the government is at a vantage position in being able to come up with a unique, sustainable and penetrable broadband policy. To this end, one of the key aspects is to ensure quality of service.”

“Near monopolistic policies over the past decade” relating to the landing points for undersea cable links contributed to high broadband costs. The submarine cable landing points were controlled by a few players and smaller operators might not have the leverage to substantially influence pricing.” “The government must ensure that a large percentage of the installed capacity is ‘lit up’ and made available to other providers, especially those operating locally,” he said.

‘Unbundling,’ or the shared use of installed cables by telecom companies, or using the existing ducts to lay cables for free, should be promoted.

The other issue is that service providers were not ‘peering’ (inter-connecting), to the desired extent, with other networks internally, reaching out to content owners or optimising network operations within the country. This meant traffic is routed over international cables back to the country

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