The Broadband Readiness Index (BRI) being prepared by the Department of Telecommunications has thrown up a surprise with Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand faring better on the criteria set by the Central government, Hindustan Times has learnt.
The BRI was launched in association with economic policy think-tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) last year to further expand the broadband network across the country and analyse the state’s readiness to adopt the fixed line network.
The Index also becomes significant in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on August 15 that 6 lakh villages across the country will be connected by optical fibre within a thousand days.
According to documents accessed by Hindustan Times, 24 states/UTs have already provided complete data for the Index, while partial data has been received from Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. No data has been received from Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal. For the states that have not submitted the data, DoT is sourcing material from secondary sources such as COAI, Telecom Service Providers and TAIPA.
Several criteria were laid down by DoT to check where states ranked on Index. These include Right of Way (RoW) rules that were introduced last year to set up mobile towers and underground optical fibre, national building code of 2016, provisions for making government infrastructure available to setup telecom towers, smart city implementation and common duct policy.
The earlier deadline to submit the information was March 2020 but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department has extended the deadline to September. In March, DoT secretary Anshu Prakash had written to chief secretaries of all states to expedite the submission of the documents. The report was supposed to be finalised by April 2020, but has been delayed due to the pandemic.
The Department has also asked for granular details such as length of fibre in kms, number of mobile towers and number of mobile towers connected by fibre in the state.
According to DoT officials, the department is working to establish 6 lakh connections, of which 1.5 lakh have already been completed. “The aim is that at least four institutions, say a school, the panchayat, the health care centre, the police station and/or ration shop are connected with the fibre to provide a fixed line connection,” said a senior DoT official.
The official added that of 21 states analysed, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Puducherry, Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh have emerged as the five best states on the BRI. “The ranking is also contingent on the size and population density of the state,” said the official.
As of April 2020, according to data by TRAI, India 117 crore telecom connections, of which 115 crore are mobile connections. Of these, over 62 crore are urban mobile connections and over 52 crore are rural mobile connections.
However, there are only two crore fixed line broadband connections. “India has 1.34 fixed broadband subscribers per hundred population, whereas the global average is 14,” said the above-mentioned official. But at the same time, data consumption is 10.4 gb per month per subscriber on mobile connections.
“Fibre and fixed line connections will help provide easier access, especially considering the pandemic and need for quicker Internet as even teaching and learning move to an online platform,” said a second official. The official added that the Department was working round the clock to meet the thousand day deadline and had already established over a lakh Bharatnet fixed line connections in the last six months.
According to former DoT secretary Shyamal Ghosh, connections will only make a difference if proper utilization is done. “A large number of villages have been connected, but what is needed is to set up services and have a development model otherwise the investment remains unutilised.”
Ghosh added that BRI is a good investment, but it will have to engage with states to ensure further application, especially in local languages.