As per the National Telecom Policy of 2012, we set ourselves a target of 600 million broadband internet connections with a minimum of 2 Mbps speed. The present broadband subscriber base has to increase 1.5 times in the next 4 years if we are to achieve targets.
In May last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has written to the government recommending a review of broadband definition in the country and that the minimum download speed be increased to 2 Mbps. Currently, the broadband definition in the country is that connection which is able to provide a minimum download speed of 512 kbps to an individual subscriber. The minimum download speed in India is less than that specified in Bangladesh (minimum of 1 Mbps). Even with this definition, the number of broadband subscribers in India stands at 236 millions as of December 2016.
India’s Internet Subscriber base at 391 million
As of December 2016, the internet subscriber base in the country stood at 391 millions. This includes both broadband and narrowband subscribers. While 155 million of these are narrowband subscribers, 236 million are broadband subscribers. Maharashtra leads in the total subscriber base with 32.6 million closely followed by Tamil Nadu (30.7 million). If Mumbai circle is included, the total subscriber base in Maharashtra & Mumbai circles crosses 50 million which is more than 1/8th of India’s internet subscriber base. A total of 15 telecom circles have more than 15 million internet subscribers each while Jammu & Kashmir circle has only 30 lakh internet subscribers, the lowest in the country.
In terms of broadband subscribers, seven circles of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat & Madhya Pradesh account for 123 million or more than 50% of the total subscribers.
Internet subscriber base increased by 46% in 2 years
The total internet subscriber base in the country increased from 267.4 million to 391.5 million in 2 years between December 2014 and December 2016. In Madhya Pradesh, the internet subscriber base increased by around 70% in these 2 years, the highest in the country. The subscriber base increased by more than 50% in 9 telecom circles. It increased by over 30% in 22 of the 23 circles. Jammu & Kashmir is the only circle in the country where the subscriber base has decreased in these 2 years from 3.08 million to 3.01 million.
Targets difficult to achieve?
One of the core objectives of the National Telecom Policy-2012 is to provide affordable and reliable broadband-on-demand and to achieve 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by the year 2020 at minimum 2 Mbps download speed. While the number of broadband connections as of December 2016 has crossed 175 million, it is at the old definition of 512 kbps. If the target of 600 million by 2020 has to be achieved, then the number of connections has to increase 1.5 times or by over 150% in the next 4 years or by around 40% each year. Going at the current rate, it looks improbable that the 2020 targets will be met.
India’s targets look modest compared to other countries
As per report sent by TRAI to the government in 2016, average internet connection speed in India was 2.5 Mbps, lower than all its BRICS counterparts. Even in terms of the definition of broadband, other countries are ahead. In both Brazil & Bangladesh, minimum of 1 Mbps is defined as broadband. The targets set by India (600 million by 2020 at 2 Mbps) look modest when compared to some of the developed western countries. Australia’s target is to make 100 Mbps available to 93% of the homes & businesses by 2018. Finland on the other hand had a target of providing 100 Mbps to every household by 2016. Germany wishes to provide 50 Mbps connections to 75% of the households.