India's national broadband plan unworkable: Rahul Khullar

Telecom regulator Rahul Khullar has sharply criticised the government's ambitious national broadband plan to connect as many as 2.5 lakh villages through optic fibre, terming the move as "impossible" to implement and something that was bound to "fail", the Times of India reported.

Khullar, the head of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), reiterated the need for higher spectrum availability before the February auctions and said efforts need to be made to have four blocks of 3G spectrum (of 5MHz each) for sale rather than only one block that might be released by defence authorities.

As regards broadband expansion, he said a plan to connect the entire country at one go was not the right way of providing broadband connectivity to all. "We are deluding ourselves by saying that we will reach 100 per cent. Isn't it simple to say that we will reach 50 per cent first, or the metros, cities, and then the talukas? Why do we say 100 per cent first, and then fail on it, and thereafter recriminate?" Khullar said at a seminar 'India - Broadband For All' organised by Ericsson and COAI. "It is an impossible target, (and) you are bound to fail".
The Modi government has plans to link village panchayats across the country by December 2016 through the national optical fibre network (NOFN).

''Why must we set an ambitious target? Khullar pointed out. We need to work on such targets. If you set an impossible target you have to work on loopholes, only then can you achieve it. There is not going to be a broadband network until there is an access network,'' he said.

Under the Digital India project conceived by the Narendra Modi government, the government had target of providing broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh villages (as per the 2011 Census, India has about 6.41 lakh villages) and making as many schools Wi-Fi enabled by 2019, The Financial Express reported. There are currently 16 million broadband users.

India had missed its broadband targets earlier and might continue to miss new targets due to lack of participation from private players and low efficiency of government companies. Khullar added that the telecom ministry did not even know how to encourage private players to invest in rural and urban broadband. He said the e-governance initiatives lacked clarity as for this norms had to be eased by the government, which did not seem likely as of now.

''Why are we not talking about sharing and trading of spectrum?'' he asked, even as he hinted at lack of spectrum availability among telcos.