BROADBAND: Bridging the Digital Divide



Telecom is supposed to provide the bridge to cross the digital divide. There
is a lot of talk, but a lot more needs to be done to bring the benefits of ‘digital
opportunity’ to the people.

Also, to be part of the emerging global ‘information society’, it is not
enough any more to just provide POTs to all. We also need to provide access to
the Internet, and today, at broadband speed because of the nature of interactive
multimedia content. And to combine the access to POTs as well as broadband the
fastest approach used in most of the countries is through local loop unbundling
(LLU).

LLU for Broadband
LLU has long been feted by as a way out of the stranglehold of incumbent telcos
on telephone lines and Internet services. It promotes competition and fosters
growth of broadband.

LLU is expected to make the incumbent operator’s local network available to
other operators/service providers who are then able to use DSL technology to
offer broadband as well as services on high-speed Internet access to the
customer.

Sub-Loop unbundling
The European Union (EU) Regulation on LLU requires incumbents to offer
shared access (or line sharing). Line sharing enables operators and the
incumbent to share the same line, thus fostering competition with more choice
for consumers. Consumers can acquire ‘data services’ from an operator while
retaining the ‘voice services’ of the incumbent. Some operators may choose
to offer data services only, so with line sharing, consumers can retain the
incumbent’s service for voice calls while getting higher bandwidth services
from another operator without needing to install a second line.

The EU Regulation also requires that other operators can interconnect with
the local access network at a point between the incumbent’s site and the end
user. This arrangement is referred to as ‘sub-loop unbundling’. Sub-loop
unbundling can be used for emerging technologies such as VDSL where the
equipment needs to be much closer to the home to deliver very high bandwidth
services. An optical fiber would deliver high-speed services to the local green
cabinet and VDSL used to send them along the copper pair to the consumer’s
premises.

Indian Scenario
In India, the reason given for not taking up LLU issue is that the ‘local
loop’ is in deficit i.e. the copper pairs are all used up and not available
for sharing. However, we have to consider optimum utilization of non-voice
spectrum on the copper pair for DSL application through whatever regulatory
policies it may be feasible. We may have to soon make serious effort for
broadband with options like xDSL, CATV, and WiFi (802.11b).

The experience worldwide in Europe, US and Asian countries like Korea has
shown that the success of broadband depends not only on the cooperation of
incumbents but also on their active participation. As broadband content-based
services become key revenue drivers in a falling ARPU scenario such
participation should happen. That will ensure that the digital divide does not
increase at broadband speed.

Niraj K Gupta

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