Minimum Internet Speed of 2Mbps: Long Way To Go

Madana Prathap June 7, 2012
Minimum Internet Speed of 2Mbps: Long Way To Go
National Telecom Policy 2012 redefines minimum broadband speed as 2Mbps, unleashes double-edged sword.

The National Telecom Policy (2012) approved by the Union Cabinet of India and announced by Kapil Sibal has an interesting provision for Internet users. First the good news – the minimum speed required for a connection to be called "Broadband" has been increased by eight times, to 2Mbps.

Seen against the current 256 Kbps requirement which was set out in the Telecom Policy of 1998, this is very good. This was the minimum download speed required at all times, thus defining the floor for Broadband service in India. Notably, if the speed fell to below 256 Kbps (hourly packs, time of day, number of Bytes consumed) the said Internet connection could not then be called "Broadband".

What is the bad news then? Firstly you can now stop terming those puny plans that drop speed to below 2Mbps after a set Fair-Usage-Policy as "Broadband". You might very well have an "Unlimited data" Internet plan, but if it's speed drops below the new minimum your ISP cannot call it an "Unlimited Broadband" connection anymore. The majority of "Broadband" Internet subscribers in India fall in this bracket!

Secondly, plans from ISPs who do begin to or already offer an "Unlimited data" connection that won't drop below 2Mbps are likely to be pretty expensive.

So psychologically, the government raising the bar will lead to a perceived deterioration of service. The Rs. 999 "Unlimited Broadband" plan that you were having until now will morph into a "partially-Broadband but mostly-Narrowband" plan.

It feels like the bad old days of 2002 all over again, when Sify/Hathway/ZeeNext used to offer two separate sets of unlimited-data plans. One set that gave 64/96/128 Kbps; and another set that was compliant with the definition of broadband and offered speeds of 256 Kbps or more. After 14 years, can moving the minimum target from 256 Kbps to 2Mbps help improve average Internet speeds in our country? Or will it just land us in a tangled mess of "market-differentiated" plans?

My Expectations:
1. The updated definition of "Broadband" won't be accepted in a hurry by the ISPs, who'll seek some time to transition.
2. The plans that are only partially-Broadband will fall in price, or have a greatly boosted FUP limit.
3. The national ISPs will be under more pressure to compete with small regional ISPs who already offer 10-12 Mbps plans that do not fall below 2Mbps speed.

At the time of writing, Airtel and Reliance did not have a response when contacted, while BSNL/MTNL were not reachable for comment.