The Prime Minister has announced many laudable programs to take the country forward toward economic development. A very important program in this direction is Digital India since this would provide the country, especially the rural areas, with quality education, healthcare, and faster delivery of various government services, in an effective manner. Knowledge is the economy of future and hence this program holds large potential for the nation.
Broadband Internet services are a crucial part of infrastructure for achieving the objectives of Digital India. Governments in different countries are investing large amounts of funds and resources to reach broadband services to their citizens. Indian government has also earmarked substantial amount of funds for laying infrastructure required for taking broadband to rural areas. However, due to various issues, progress on this front is far from satisfactory. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has given its recommendations to the government. Multiple expert committees have also tried to analyze the issue and provided their suggestions.
In broadband services today, the country is almost in a similar situation, which existed for cellular telephony services around the years 1999-2000. The bold and facilitating approach of government policies as well as the telecom regulator encouraged telecom operators to adopt various innovative approaches, which made mobile telephony services affordable and brought these within the common man's reach. This in turn brought about the unforeseen growth in telecom services, putting India's telecom network at second place globally, by subscriber numbers. The connectivity has also brought about immense socioeconomic benefits, which are well known to everyone.
All committees as well as experts in the telecom sector fully recognize that wireless services are essential in the last-mile to spread broadband in the country. Among wireless services, both terrestrial as well as satellite-based services have to play their rightful part to cover a large country like India. The satellite-based services can provide nationwide coverage with a single satellite, though the total data capacity and speed may be limited. However, in the present situation, when there is no Internet service in large parts of the country's rural areas, even a lower data rate, to start, with can provide required exposure for rural masses about the benefits of Internet services. As the optical fiber cable (OFC) network is being laid out for more and more villages, the satellite services can provide higher data speeds, even on shared basis, to the remaining areas, where OFC network has yet to reach. Despite the extensive layout of OFC network, about 10 percent of the country's area might still need to be covered through satellite for a long time.
The facilitating role of the policy and regulatory regime is thus required for both terrestrial and satellite-based services. Some of the committees have estimated financial budgetary support of Rs.70,000 crore to Rs.100,000 crore for covering all the villages/gram panchayats with OFC for broadband services. Even with this, it may take 3 to 5 years to cover all the villages. If some encouragement is provided to various telecom operators in various telecom fields - be it mobile or fixed-line telecom service providers, Internet service providers, direct-to-home (DTH), or cable TV network providers, or service providers for satellite-based services like VSAT - through a suitable relief in telecom license fee and/or radio frequency spectrum charges for covering rural areas, very fast results can be obtained with much lesser government finances. Some concession in the form of reduced service tax for broadband services can also provide the required boost.