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India’s New Telecom Policy Brings a Ray of Hope

Identifying emerging issues in Indian internet policy is the first step.

With the United Nations declaring internet access to be a human right, the need for clear guidelines on the issue of internet policy has never been stronger. In light of this, the ‘National Telecom Policy, 2012‘ (Policy) recently released by the Department of Telecom is a pleasant surprise.

The Policy employs the rights-based rhetoric of the UN, by recognising the need for broadband and telecom connectivity to promote education, health and employment in India. Increased internet penetration would go well with other government efforts such as its efforts to make the world’s cheapest tablet ‘Aakash’. But without reliable internet connectivity, such devices will be useless. Therefore, the Policy makes it clear internet connectivity must reach rural andaakash remote areas across India.

Another important issue concerning Indian internet policy is that of speed. The Policy aims to ‘increase the existing broadband download speed of 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps and subsequently to 2 Mbps by 2015 and higher speeds of at least 100 Mbps thereafter’. With services moving to cloud-based technologies and the advent of digital distribution channels, including online streaming of audio-visual content and video conferencing, internet speed is a crucial issue. It is no secret that broadband speeds in India pale in comparison to other countries. As we rely more and more on on online storage and consumption methods and the government introducing several e-governance projects, internet speeds will be a crucial factor in India’s developmental process.

The Policy targets “175 million broadband connections in India by 2017, 600 million by 2020, at a minimum of 2 Mbps download speeds, and high speeds of 100 Mbps available on demand.” To achieve these targets, it envisions quicker Right of Way policies through efficient coordination between different government departments. Although the immediate focus is on rural areas, the fruits of the Policy will flow to citizens across the country. It also recommends the freeing up wireless spectrum for broadband services, which is commendable given the foresight demonstrated. It also prescribes a deadline of 2020 for completion migration to IPv6, given the acute shortage of IPv4 addresses across the world (some large enterprises have already started migrating to IPv6).

But no policy is without its limitations. One of the biggest shortcoming is the lack of any discussion on network neutrality, which has been a thorny issue in recent months. For example, the Policy does not discourage or prohibit the throttling of internet speeds for certain types of content (as sometimes practiced by ISP’s). But there is certainly a sense of optimism since the government has identified the relevant issues and offered reasonable solutions. From here on, it is simply a question of implementing the Policy effectively.

(Image from the Press Information Bureau)

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About Amlan Mohanty

Amlan is a lawyer based in India. He engages in research, writing, speaking and teaching at the intersection of technology, law and policy.