appeared today in the Economic Times about NOFN/BBNL plans to acquire an ISP license to provide e-services based on Wi-Fi in rural areas.
I had written earlier
about the proposal to provide Wi-Fi for India’s rural local Government offices and my worries on this count.
Firstly focusing energies on the Village Panchayat Telephone or Government sponsored Common Service Centres(for internet) has not met with notable success in the past. What has succeeded is the creation of a conducive environment for services and applications to flourish on a commercial basis.
Thus, in the pre-mobile revolution era, India’s subsidised Village Public Telephones which were supposed to be the village life line were often found to be lying in disrepair or being used as private phones of rural elite but once wireless appeared on the scene, commercially run public phones did roaring business.
Secondly, I fail to understand why the Government must select the technology and service provider to deliver e-Government services to citizens. If this was bid out with desired specifications, the lease cost solution could be selected. This would be conistent with the regulations laid down for Universal Service Funding
Thirdly, public money (USOF)
is being used to fund NOFN/BBNL
‘s OFC roll out which was meant for areas that markets would not serve. Thus, the network was to provide high capacity backhaul from villages to blocks on a non discriminatory basis. NOFN was never meant to be a service provider. If the argument is that its viability is uncertain, well, that is exactly why it is being fully subsidised. If USOF was to float another tender for broadband access in non viable areas, then the selected access providers would need back haul and BBNL would get its business and revenues. Ignoring competitive neutrality today means a heavy cost in terms of poor telecommunications in the future. We have already seen this pan out in the case of fixed lines and rural broadband in India.Should we be repeating the same mistakes?
Please also see my posts on NBN
and lessons for NOFN.