In a written reply to Rajya Sabha, Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal shared that at the end of March 2012, there were 22.86 million Internet subscribers in India. Unfortunately though, the numbers have been a lot lower than the target that was set for 2010. Sibal informed the Parliament that the low numbers were the result of multiple factors that came in its way. Elaborating further, he shared that the number of Internet subscribers as per the data by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for the last three years was 16.18 million (2009-10), 19.67 million (2010-11) and 22.86 million (2011-12).
Reportedly, under the Broadband Policy 2004, the government had targeted 6 million, 18 million and 40 million Internet users for the years 2005, 2007 and 2010 respectively.
Numbers way below targets, reveals Sibal (Image credit: Getty Images)
As for the numbers for wireline Internet subscribers, they were 6.7 million (2005), 10.36 million (2007) and 18.69 million (2010). It has been known that the policy had targeted a broadband user base at 3 million, 9 million and 20 million for 2005, 2007 and 2010 respectively. Shockingly though, the actual numbers stood at 0.90 million (2005), 3.13 million (2007) and 10.99 million (2010).
Interestingly, as per the policy, an Internet connection with a speed of 256 kbps and higher is categorised as broadband. Highlighting the factors hampering the growth of Internet and broadband in India, Sibal shared that there is a “lack of interest in private operators, for broadband expansion in rural areas being non-remunerative”.
“Difficulty in laying optical fibre cable (OFC) network due to the issues related to right of way clearances and high cost of right of way charges,” he went on to add.
Sibal shared that the other obstacles include high backhaul cost, low PC penetration, high cost of customer premises equipment, low literacy levels, lack of local content and poor power supply.
Interestingly, Sibal has revealed that furthering its plans to provide Internet at cheaper rates, the government has approved a scheme for creation of a National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) to offer broadband connectivity to 247,864 village panchayats. Reportedly, the project will be funded by USOF and initial estimated cost of project is Rs 20,000 crore. The proposed period for the completion of the project is 2 years. “On completion of the NOFN project, non-discriminatory access to the network will be provided to all the categories of ISPs,” Sibal elaborated.
It has been known that the aforementioned NOFN project is being put forth by a Special Purpose Vehicle – Bharat Broadband Network Ltd. The company was incorporated on February 25, 2012 under Indian Companies Act, 1956. It is fully owned by central government, with equity participation from the government, BSNL, Railtel and Powergrid.
“These access providers/service providers like mobile operators, ISPs, cable TV operators, content providers can launch various services in rural areas. Various applications for e-health, e-education, e-governance etc will be provided,” he added.