Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand take the lead on Broadband Readiness Index

According to the Broadband Readiness Index (BRI), Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand are faring better than other Indian states in all the criteria set by the Central government to analyse a state’s readiness to adopt the fixed line network, Hindustan Times has learnt. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is preparing the index.

Economic policy think-tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) helped launch the BRI last year to further expand the broadband network across the country.

The index also becomes significant in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on August 15 that optical fibre will connect 600,000 villages across the country in 1,000 days.

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According to documents accessed by Hindustan Times, 24 states/UTs have already provided requisite data for the index, while Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have given partial data to date. Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal have not contributed any data yet. DoT is sourcing material from secondary sources such as COAI, Telecom Service Providers and TAIPA for states that have not submitted data.

DoT checked where states ranked on the index based on several criteria, including Right of Way (RoW) rules that were introduced last year to set up mobile towers and underground optical fibre, the national building code of 2016, provisions to make government infrastructure available to set up telecom towers, smart city implementation and the common duct policy.

The original deadline to submit the information was March 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the department has extended the deadline to September. DoT secretary Anshu Prakash also wrote to the chief secretaries of all states in March to expedite the submission of documents. The report was supposed to be finalised by April 2020.

According to DoT officials, the department is working to establish the 600,000 connections, of which 150,000 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.

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As of April 2020, according to data by TRAI, there are 1.17 billion telecom connections in India, of which 1.15 billion are mobile connections. Of these, over 620 million are urban mobile connections and over 520 million are rural.

However, there are only 20 million 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 people with easier access, especially considering the pandemic and the need for quicker Internet, as even teaching and learning are taking place online,” 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 there is proper utilisation of resources. “A large number of villages have been connected, but there is a need 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.

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