Telecom Minister R S Prasad talks about net neutrality and connectivity

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 11, 2016 11:40 IST
The government has set up an expert panel to look into the issue of net neutrality, following the raging debate on providing unbiased internet experience. (PTI)

Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad affirmed the government’s stand on non-discriminatory access to internet speaking at the inauguration of stock exchange BSE’s free wi-fi service to public, launched in partnership with Tata Docomo.

“The issue of net neutrality is being debated by the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) and we have to await the TRAI report. Thereafter, the government will take its structured view,” said Prasad.

The government has set up an expert panel to look into the issue of net neutrality, following the raging debate on providing unbiased internet experience — no priority should be given to an entity or company based on payments to service providers such as telecom companies.

“I have told the Parliament that internet is the finest creation of human mind. It must remain as a privilege and not become monopoly of the rich.

“Also, non-discriminatory access of Internet shall be given,” he said.

Noting that a detailed report is being awaited from TRAI, Prasad said decisions would be based on fair consultations with all concerned stakeholders. “We (the government) respect the freedom of social media and have larger commitment to non-discriminatory access,” he added.

“Today mobile penetration is 100 crore, while internet penetration is 40 crore. It took more than 3-4 years to become from 20 to 30 crore. It took less than a year to become from 30 to 40 crore and I have fixed a target of 50 crore...God willing, we will cross 50 crore in coming 6-7 months,” he said noting that wi-fi services are crucial to connect India, Prasad said that state-owned telecom firm BSNL plans to install 2,500 wi-fi hotspots at 256 places by the next fiscal.

So far, the Tata Docomo has installed 500 wi-fi hotspots in 200 places. The wi-fi hotspot project will provide a major fillip to the ‘Digital India’ initiative. The in 2014, unveiled the Digital India initiative comprising various projects worth about Rs 1 lakh crore to transform the country into a digitally empowered knowledge economy. The programme includes projects that aim to ensure that government services are available to citizens electronically and people get benefits of the latest information and communication technology.

“Digital India will transform the country and is more for people like chaiwallas and paanwallas so that they can enhance their skills,” Prasad said.

Ahead of the launch of 4G services by Reliance Industries under its Jio brand, union Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said this technology will prove to be a game-changer in India. “I approved the proposal of 4G. You will have 4G from Reliance Jio, Airtel, Idea — I want competition to be there. 4G technology promises customers a vastly improved online experience with faster web browsing, downloads and video-on-demand, besides being facilitator for a variety of social services, online healthcare, education and governance,” Prasad added.

Prasad also open to allowing experiments by Google, Microsoft and others to address digital challenges of future.

“Technology is overtaking us. Google wants to explore the Loon project and also, Microsoft is trying to explore white space. As a minister, I am very clear that all new technologies must be given proper opportunity for experimentation,” Prasad said at a National Seminar on Spectrum Management.

The Loon project is learnt to have hit a hurdle, with a committee examining it. The Internet giant wants to experiment its Loon project in premium spectrum bands of 700 Mhz or 800 Mhz. However, the committee under IT secretary has asked the company to reconsider its request for these premium bands because of availability issues.

The technology, used for 4G services, has the potential to substitute mobile towers by directly transmit signal on 4G mobile phones.

According to Google, each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area of about 40 km in diameter using a wireless communication technology called LTE, or 4G.

The Project Loon partners with telecommunication companies to share cellular spectrum so that people can access the Internet everywhere directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices.

The government, the minister said, will encourage other entities interested in developing new technology.

“A decision on the end use of that pilot will of course be taken by us at a policy level later,” Prasad said.

Microsoft has approached the telecom ministry to experiment use of the unutilised airwave space for delivering wireless broadband.

Since spectrum is scarce natural resource, its allocation must be done in “a fair and transparent manner”. “We are in the process of (spectrum) harmonisation, which will be completed soon. The Defence spectrum band in the country has been promulgated. It was pending for the last 7-8 years,” Prasad said.

Underlining the need to make spectrum auction more liberalised, he sees “a huge explosion of technology” in the country with machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. “We have laid out the whole architecture of M2M technology. Smart cities are coming up. In the IT department, I have also asked for framing a policy on Digital Village,” Prasad said.

Under the Digital Village programme, the government will select a block in a district and one village panchayat will be developed as digital village where technology will be used for education and health.

With inputs from PTI and IANS.

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