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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Suburbia unplugged

Many residents in emerging suburbs are bereft of one essential service: the landline telephone.

Written by Atikh Rashid |
January 28, 2012 3:11:36 am

While one can safely assume availability of basic services such as water,electricity,roads and sewage system when buying a new home in the fast-growing suburbs in any of the major Indian cities,‘wired internet access’ is another service that has increasingly becoming inevitable,but is largely unavailable for residents.

In the absence of wired internet access,the only available alternative is wireless broadband service. Although wireless access is very useful and enables internet access on-the-move,it is not entirely dependable nor is it meant to replace the wireline broadband connections.

Wireless broadband is much more expensive,comparatively more prone to security threats,less reliable,and most importantly they can provide the user with only limited speeds. As the ‘spectrum’ which carries data is limited,the speed goes down with increase in the number of users.

WHY ARE HOUSES NOT WIRED?

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For homes in the suburbs to get wireline or landline connections it is a prerequisite that a telecom operator lays the telephone cable,either copper or optical fibre,near the housing society and provides the service.

Another way would be if the developer of a society himself makes arrangements by dealing with service providers to make sure that his housing project is wired by a service provider. “Over the years the definition of basic infrastructure has changed. It is no longer water,road,sewage and electricity but it also includes reliable telephone and internet connectivity. Before getting the requisite go-ahead for a project the government authorities should make sure that the proposed project has all these basic infrastructure needs,” said Satish Khot a housing expert and president of the National Society of Clean Cities,a voluntary organisation working towards improving civic governance.

Presently that is not the case. While authorities are not very concerned about the connectivity issue,the telecom operators have their own reasons to promote wireless over wired connections.

HUGE OUTLAYS,NO IMMEDIATE RETURNS

Laying of cables in housing projects located in the farther reaches of the city requires large outlays that includes the cost of laying the cable and reinstatement charges to be paid to the concerned civic body that governs the area.

The immediate returns over this investment,given the current usage pattern and prevailing charges,are far from encouraging.

“The main factor that is preventing the telecom operators from laying the cables is dismal immediate returns over the investment. It would take at least three-four years for breaking even. BSNL’s landline broadband service is ten times better than its 3G service but we are unable to connect more homes because we simply cannot afford the costs. The huge investment and a long gestation period makes laying of wires an unattractive proposal with business point of view for the telecom operators,” said a highly placed source in the state operator BSNL.

On the other hand,for operators,wireless broadband services like 3G requires comparatively less investment and it pays quick dividends. For providing 3G service all it needs is an investment for upgradation of the equipment on the existing towers and an increase in backhaul capacity.

‘OBSTRUCTIONIST’ POLICIES OF MUNICIPALITIES

Even in locations where the operator is willing to lay the cables,such as areas where the number of customers have crossed the minimum threshold,the exorbitant reinstatement charges that the operators have to pay to the civic body for digging and placing the cable is another hindrance.

“The cost of the optical fibre cable is Rs 10,000-20,000 per kilometre but for laying that much cable (to cover a housing project) the reinstatement charges range from Rs 40-70 lakh per kilometre. This is ridiculous. But as there is no central policy to govern the the reinstatement charges,every municipal corporation is free to decide the charges,” said the BSNL official.

In light of the above consideration most of the residents have to depend on wireless connectivity even as they wish otherwise.

“Considering the unreliability of the wireless connection we had applied for about 30 connections for our society a few months ago. But BSNL officials expressed their inability to give us the connections saying that they would be able put the cable only if we could guarantee them more than a hundred connections,” said Rameshchandra Shivpuri,president of of Western Aundh Welfare Association which represents residents of about 28 housing societies situated Aundh locality in Pune.

The service provider argues that as the charge of laying the cable would be the same for connecting one home or a few hundred,and given the high costs they have to make sure that they get enough connections to make the project economically feasible for the company.

Contrary to this,the operators are eager to provide connections to townships that comprise several thousand housing units. But only a few such townships exist.

“In our township in Magarpatta we roped in a leading telecom company to provide broadband services for all the 10,000 flats. They were more than happy as they got captive customers,” said Prakash Deshmukh,a Pune-based real estate developer who said that they are replicating similar model in two other townships being developed elsewhere in that city.

According to Khot,the responsibility of providing wired telephone connectivity should rest with the developer,for an individual flat-owner neither has the financial resources nor the political clout to get this done.

“There have been instances where the municipality expresses its inability to provide a water connection. At such places the builder resolves the issue by finding alternate solutions. So in this case of laying telephone cables it should be the builder’s responsibility to make it sure that operators lay the cable. There’s lack of wired broadband connection in the outskirts of most of the cities in the country. Service providers,either private or public have to find the the system economically profitable,which is currently not the case. But as the demand for wired broadband is growing and it would become financially sustainable operators would would find out ways to reach their and provide connections,” said Shashi Prabhu,a Mumbai based housing expert.

WHAT IS NEEDED

Over the years as the demand for high speed internet will go up,the need to find ways to provide wired internet connections to a growing number of internet users in emerging suburban areas will assume urgency.

According to experts if the government is determined to solve the issue,several models could be worked out to provide incentive to the telecom operators to lay the cables.

The government can also make it mandatory for every telecom operator to have a certain percentage of its customers as landline users. Operators can also be encouraged to lay the cable by providing a subsidy.

“Another important step would be to formulate a law that would bring a uniformity in reinstatement charges across the country and stop bullying by the corporation,” said the

principal general manager of a telecom company.

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