Keeping up with his agenda of a Digital India, the Prime Minister’s Office has directed the Telecom Department and the regulator to speed up the implementation of cable TV digitisation programme and the national optical fibre network project. Both these projects are essential to achieve a faster penetration of internet and broadband.
The national optical fibre network is expected to reach broadband to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats. The PMO wants the fibre network completed by 2016 instead of current schedule of 2017. DoT wishes to get Cabinet nod to involve agencies other than BSNL, RailTel and Powergrid to speed up roll out of optical network.
The three PSUs are responsible for laying the optical fibre but, according to a DoT survey, the ongoing speed of laying cable is 500 km per month whereas the required speed to achieve the target is 30,000 km a month. National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) is supposed to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats when completed. The Rs. 20,000-crore project has already been delayed by over two years due to issues around procurement of equipment. Subsequently, the DoT divided up the project into three phases.
Apart from procedural delays, lack of a proper business case is also plaguing the project. During a recent meeting, BSNL said that there were no takers for its broadband connections in rural areas as telecom companies do not visualise any viable business there.
The PSU wanted the Government to drive usage by undertaking e-governance projects in a big way. The DoT has set up a committee to come up with ideas on how to make the project commercially viable. The PMO also wants to drive broadband usage on cable TV networks for which digitisation is a must.
There are 100 million homes with cable TV connection of which 20 million are digital, 35-40 million homes are in rural areas. This is more than the fixed line telephony subscriber base. Although TRAI had earlier suggested to use DTH for broadband but according to experts no where in the world DTH providers broadband since it is a one way satellite service and uplink on a home this is not possible.
Digitisation would enable cable TV networks to be used for two-way communications, a pre-requisite for Internet services.