Thinking Workable Broadband

DQI Bureau
New Update

You know Mr Sharma, don’t you? Every month he pays around Rs 200-400 per

month to his cable operator for the privilege to watch some 70-odd television

channels. Depending on his usage, he also pays a total of Rs 500—3,000 per

month to his ISP and phone provider, for dial-up Internet access. So you figure,

he is spending around Rs 700-3,400 on just cable and a  slow Internet access that

doesn’t even work for an audio conference with his colleagues in the office or

elsewhere, let alone a video chat he wants with his cousin living abroad.


Now imagine the delight of Mr Sharma if he were to pay a mere Rs 500—800

per month–to the same cable guy, or to the phone provider–to get access to

not only thousands of television channels and radio station broadcasts around

the world, but also to do rich video and audio conversation with friends and

colleagues (a possible case for teleworking) and graphics-intensive online

gaming, not to mention a high-speed Web access.

That’s the promise of broadband, and the above-mentioned scenarios could be

part of the new vision that’s taking shape, with increasing broadband

penetration in India.

So Far, not so Good

Eight years after the country began its Internet journey, and five years

after the national ISP policy, the number of Internet subscribers is still

languishing in the country with a current subscriber base of 39.8 lakh users in

September, 2003, according 


to latest TRAI data. The number of broadband

subscribers is even marginal. And this is when National Telecom Policy 1999 (NTP

’99) has specified targets for providing high-speed data and multimedia

capability to all towns with populations greater than 200,000 by the year 2002.


the Fat-pipe Dream
Target: Broadband

access at Rs 500-800 for end-consumers
Need to sort out

international and domestic bandwidth pricing and availability
Need for a national

broadband plan
Rationalization of

taxes and duties required
Need to learn from

Korean, Japan and UK examples

For Internet access, dial-up remains the primary mode for almost 90%

subscribers. Although there are service providers who are providing high-speed

access through means like leased lines, DSL, and cable access, the twin issues

of quality of service and pricing remain the biggest hurdles in mass adoption of



The leased-line connectivity is preferred by enterprises. As of September

2003, a total of 8,109 subscribers availed of leased-line connectivity, as per

TRAI data. Companies like Dishnet DSL have been in the arena for many years but

with limited success–the number of DSL subscribers still lurks around 60,000,

and DSL is still being used primarily to provide wideband (64—128 kbps) access

over DSL.

For a country with 40 million cable TV access subscribers, only around 52,000

subscribers use the cable network for Internet access. And since cable access

works in the shared-bandwidth mode, the quality of service is even more

difficult to maintain.


Internet and Broadband Indicators
Parameters Korea Malaysia China India

of PCs per 100
78.6 15 2.8 0.8

of cable TVs per 100 persons
43 0 9 6

of fixed telephone lines per 100 persons
49 18.5 16.7 4.5

of PC (in $)
500* 1,100 600

of internet connections per 100 persons
58 11 2 0.4

of broadband connections per 100 persons
57.5 0.21 1 0.02

for broadband per month (in $)
30 29 16 20

per 100 kbps per month (in $)
0.25 7.61 3.07 15.63**

duty on the customer premises equipment

used for broadband

Local Made

Local Made 38%

of table:
ABTO; China Internet Network Information Center; COAI; ITU;

Korea Network Information Center; Malaysia Department of Statistics; World

Bank; TRAI analysis.
*Estimated Â

**Based on present rate for 128 kbps, with limited data transfer

allowed each month Figures are mid-2003


The distressing state of Internet and broadband penetration is a cause of

concern, even as the benefits of high-broadband penetration are widely

recognized and documented (see ‘What Broadband means to India’).

However, as India sets its sight on achieving mass broadband-penetration, the

new initiatives from industry and government could well bring affordable,

high-speed connectivity within the range of most consumers and go on to herald

the next wave of computing among Indians.

The Industry is Ready to Go

One of the key reasons for the dearth of broadband services is the heavy

infrastructure cost that is required to set up the services. A recent discussion

paper prepared jointly by CII, Department of Telecom (DoT) and Department of




refers to an always-on, wide area network access where transmission speeds

match or exceed some predetermined norms. The Organization for Economic

Cooperation and Development (OECD) says that broadband corresponds to

transmission speeds greater than 256 kbps, while the International

Telecommunication Union (ITU) defines it even higher, at 1.5 Mbps. Another

way of defining broadband can be whether the access can handle multimedia

applications like video-streaming, often one of the primary uses of a

broadband connection. Alternatives to broadband include baseband (e.g.

Ethernet), dial-up access (so-called "narrow-band"), etc.

Technology estimates that capital costs for a broadband network

during the first three to five years after the rollout may range between $400 to

$1,000 per subscriber. To match costs against revenues, many broadband providers

have so far been primarily selling wideband connections–which is finally

changing for good.

There are new broadband initiatives from many companies using a range of

technologies from DSL to WiFi, and cable to Ethernet-to-home. Reliance Infocomm

has announced plans to enter the market with its fiber-Ethernet solution focused

on the enterprise, commercial and high-rise residential markets. The service

will be available with a pan-India presence, thanks to company’s own

nationwide fiber backbone. Dishnet too has tied up with Tata Telecom for

providing DSL-based broadband access.


A provider like Sify is also looking at leveraging the cable network to

deliver broadband services. Sify has tied up 12,000 customers in Delhi and

Mumbai alone by December 2003, and plans to roll its services in 12 cities,

including Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Chandigarh, by March next.


of Duties & Taxes on Broadband  Pricing

Customer ARPU


Pricing to the customer

  Plus Import

Plus Income



& Service Tax

800 per month
Rs 1,100 Rs 1,265 Rs 1,765

1,200 per month
Rs 1,650 Rs 1,900 Rs 2,660

CII Discussion paper

*Maximum tax

rate may be applicable only in some states

Sify has also expanded its broadband cyber cafes across 40 cities in India.

Interestingly, cyber cafes may play a significant role in bringing broadband

access within reach of millions of people with no PCs. Already, some of them are

equipped to provide facilities like video-conferencing and Internet telephony.


In wireless access, Bharti Infotel has begun bundling a WiFi access point

with its DSL connection. In later phases, the company intends to deploy WiFi at

public places including airports, exhibition centers, restaurants, etc.

But even as the services proliferate, the key concern remains the pricing of

the services if they were to achieve mass penetration. The CII discussion paper

points out that broadband market across the world really takes off when the

pricing comes within range of 1.5 times the narrowband charges. In the Indian

context, it may mean that monthly broadband access in the range of Rs 600—800

per month will be the driving factor for mass adoption.

For prices to fall to that level, there is a need for a concerted effort by

both industries and the government.


Broadband Brings to India
Huge Impact on Economy: Broadband

is an infrastructure-heavy project, and can give a boost to the nation’s

economy. A Gartner Group report estimated

the impact of ‘true and ubiquitous broadband’ on the US GDP to the

tune of $500 billion every year for 10 years
Social Benefits: Broadband

can be an effective means of reaching far-flung, disadvantaged locations

and providing services like telemedicine, distance education,

e-governance, e-commerce, and agriculture/farming assistance.
Creation of Jobs: A

2002 New Millennium Council (US) study quantifies the benefits of a

nationwide broadband deployment on increased employment of 1.2 million new

US jobs. From service providers to content providers, and even

proliferation of cyber cafes, kiosks etc can provide employment to tens of

thousands of people.
Sharing of Knowledge: Broadband

can at least provide a platform for equitable learning and knowledge

gathering by all classes of people.

On the content side, it is critical for customers to be provided value-added

content right from day one of their signing up, if the broadband industry is to

remain viable. And it is equally critical for content to be localized and made

available in local languages for it to be successful.

The flexibility of a broadband connectivity allows different types of content

services to be provided. The primary among them can be video/audio channels,

interactive gaming, distance education on the consumer side, and e-commerce

applications and Web applications on the enterprise side. International

experience also shows that video-on-demand is successful in Japan, Korea and

China. Gaming is a huge application in Korea.

There are a few other hurdles facing the industry though, and

"availability of affordable international bandwidth continues to remain a

major concern", according to Sify. Even the last-mile access is a big

bottleneck for a pure-play broadband operator. Rustom Irani, CTO at Sify, points

out that providing affordable, and dependable end-user access is proving

elusive, "because of factors like the fragmented nature of the cable

market; the high cost and inconvenience of laying cable or fiber at street

level; phone operators refusing to unbundle the last mile copper; restrictions

on spectrum availability and use; and so on." And this is where the

government needs to step in and make a significant contribution.

What the Govt Needs to Do

The fact that government initiative in terms of a proactive broadband policy

is a basic requirement for increasing broadband penetration is a given as per a

recent TRAI discussion paper on ‘Accelerating the Growth of Internet and

Broadband Penetration’. "To complement and advance the policy initiatives

in the area of telephony, the next initiative, perhaps even stronger than the

previous ones, must come in the form of promoting penetration of the Internet

and broadband", says the TRAI paper.

South Korea is the country with the highest levels of broadband penetration,

and behind its success it had everything from a national plan for broadband,

Internet penetration policy and reasonably proactive management of the industry

and market by the government.

Both CII and TRAI papers debate the presence of a national broadband plan for

guiding the country towards higher broadband penetration. In any case, there are

three distinct areas where government needs to play its role in helping the

industry grow.

Formulation of policies, rules and regulations to govern the broadband

industry is the foremost task confronting the government. The task encompasses

everything from creation of an industry regulator, on the lines of TRAI, to

ensuring fair competition, and settling issues like licensing, right of way,

radio spectrum allocations, etc. An operator like Sify points out the pricing of

international bandwidth as a major hurdle in bringing end-user access charges


While mandating of prices and charges for broadband access is not quite

necessary, if we refer to the experience of mobile telephony in the last few

years, quality of service is definitely to be regulated to protect the interests

of customers.

On the pricing issue though, there is a lot desired from the government. To

help service providers reduce access charges, the government can provide direct

or indirect subsidies–in the nature of abolishing taxes and duties or

providing funding for 

infrastructure rollouts. Even the abolition of taxes and

duties can have a major impact on end-user pricing. For example, a customer’s

broadband bill of Rs 1,785 per month in present-day environment can fall to less

than half at Rs 800 per month, provided all taxes and duties are waived off. The

taxes and duties are primarily import duties on broadband infrastructure

(including DSL modems/set-top boxes), apart from entertainment and service


In addition, there has to a comprehensive copyright framework, including IPR

and digital rights management (DRM) laws, if the content industry is to take off

in a big way. The availability of international content is dependent on a big

way on existence of these laws.

With adequate backing from the government, there is no reason why India can’t

enter the next generation of communication revolution–the broadband.

Rishi Seth in New Delhi

The Global Broadband Brigades

Broadband is increasingly recognized as a key catalyst of a nation’s

socioeconomic growth. Interestingly, the comparison of broadband markets

worldwide shows that the presence of a national plan or policy for broadband is

a vital ingredient for a successful business to emerge.

South Korea, with its whopping 57.5% broadband penetration is the biggest

case in point. This growth has been a recent and accelerated phenomenon. In

1995, Korea had less than one Internet user per 100 inhabitants, but it

surpassed the developed nation average of approximately 25 by 1999. By the end

of 2002, it became the world’s fifth largest Internet market, with the third

highest penetration (highest in Asia).

To attract consumers, ISPs in South Korea have favored flat-rate pricing,

based on the bandwidth required, and the tariff in Korea today is among the

lowest in the world–at $30 per month for 10 Mbps downstream. The industry

there augments its revenues through other means–a good $148 billion, nearly

30% of GDP, was transacted on the Internet last year in Korea.

Another Asian country with a broadband policy, Malaysia is also possibly the

only country to have mandated USO in broadband. As part of the Malaysian

government’s overall objectives for ICT growth, it has stated that universal

access includes access to data at 128 kbps, as well as a telephone line.

The Chinese government too has set a target of 200 million Internet users by

2005, or a density of 15.6 users per 100 inhabitants. Additionally, the goal

there is 30—40% of broadband access.

The British government unveiled its own broadband master plan in July-end

2003. The government is setting up nine regional access bodies (RABs) across the

UK to drive the aggregation of public-sector broadband demand–a move that it

believes will play a major role in closing the high-speed digital divide–according

to a ZDNet report.

Each RAB will bundle together total demand for broadband from the public

sector–schools, hospitals and other institutions–in its area, and telecom

operators will be invited to pitch for the contract to satisfy this demand.

According to the government, once public sector buildings have been upgraded to

broadband, it will be cheaper for telcos to offer high-speed connectivity to

nearby residents.

Britain’s broadband industry, which has enjoyed impressive take-up of both

ADSL and cable broadband services thanks to a series of price cuts and

aggressive advertising campaigns since early 2002, reached a critical mass of

three million users early in December 2003. Analysts estimate up to 49,000 new

connections are being added each week in Britain.