Broadband policies often struggle with reality: officials

Asia’s telecoms regulators are developing a variety of strategies to narrow the broadband digital divide, but with varying success as policies collide with street-level realities.    

Speaking at the CommunicAsia2015 Summit, Arvind Kumar, advisor to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), described the regulator’s intervention to save the stalled fixed-line business (in the hopes of kickstarting fixed broadband) by exempting fixed-line providers from termination fees so they can offer unlimited calling bundles.   

“This may mean a short-term reduction in revenue, but it means saving the subscriber and the long-term health of the fixed-line network,” he said.    

However, Arvind admitted that one of India’s greatest challenges in developing the fixed-broadband market is right-of-way problems.    

“The central government cannot intervene with the local government, and in many cases the cost of right-of-way is one thousand times the actual cost of laying fiber,” he said.    

Another challenge, he added, is the digitalization of cable services who have the access, but not the licenses or resources, to offer broadband.   

Chanuka Wattegama, board director of the Information and Communication Technology Agency in Sri Lanka, said that while his country is ranked 65th in the network readiness index, the flip side is that Sri Lanka is well served by many submarine cable networks. “The technology is there, it is just a question of using it,” he said.   

Sri Lanka has a low-cost Wi-Fi project that offers the first 100MB for free each month. Around 40% of users manage to stay under the 100MB mark, he said.    

Big operators have embraced the network, with more 1,000 new Wi-Fi hotspots set up in areas that were not previously commercially viable. On the other hand, smaller players fear the low-cost Wi-Fi service is a threat to their commercial services.   

“Nobody complains when people move from fixed to mobile but they do complain about this move from mobile to fixed,” he said.

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