Chattanooga, a small town of 171,000, in
Tennessee, US, was once dubbed the dirtiest
place in America. Today, it is famous, but for
a different reason altogether - it is among the
few places with internet speeds at 1Gbps, 50
times the average household internet speed
the country enjoys.
Ever since, business prospects of the city
underwent a sea-change - from zero venture
capital in 2009 to more than five organised
funds with investable capital over $50
million in 2014. It has opened up a bunch of
opportunities for tech entrepreneurs while
generating employment in the city - creating
a mini Silicon Valley.
Closer home, the Startup Village - a
technology based incubator in Kochi - is
working on encouraging and facilitating
young entrepreneurs to set up their own
establishment. Their goal is to set up 1,000
technology start-ups in 10 years.
They are closer to achieving this as it is the
only region in India to enjoy 1Gbps internet
speeds. The government of Kerala drafted
its own Technology Startup Policy 2014,
which aims at providing fully-furnished and
ready-to-use plug-and-play infrastructure
with a maximum 2Gbps internet
connectivity that would help set up
incubators that could provide electricity,
water and security facilities.
Many countries are recognising the role of
the internet as a fundamental requirement
for progress and, in doing so, have ensured
that it must be made available as easily as
other utilities like electricity, gas and water
In China, as LTE spreads, the establishment
of tower-sharing policies and action to
increase coverage of telcos, 4G adoption has
become widespread. Chinese operators have
deployed 4G coverage in their license areas
by deploying base stations and Wi-Fi
hotspots across the country.
By the end of June 2015, China Mobile’s 4G
customer base reached 190 million,
accounting for 23% of its customers. By
effectively utilising the policy push from the
government, these companies consistently
grew their networks.
'Broadband China' is a national strategy
with broadband access rates for urban
(20Mbps) and rural households (4Mbps).
For some developed cities, it will be
100Mbps. China has defined separate goals
for 2020 as a part of a national strategy. In
the US, the FCC is debating to change the
definition of broadband by raising
minimum download speeds from 4Mbps to
Many nations are far ahead of us in bridging
the digital divide. It is no more about
providing basic internet services, but about
high-speed broadband which can transform
a community. Our current average speed is
2.4Mbps; we have to increase this to
As per the State of Broadband 2015 report,
148 countries have a National Broadband
Plan, including India. The challenge lies in
rolling out this policy.
The real problem is the lack of collaborative
effort to increase access to broadband and
the right infrastructure. Internet
penetration in India is at 19%, while it is
46% in China.
While the government must act to
formulate and approve required regulatory
frameworks, private players too must be
willing to invest in the latest technology to
ensure high-speed internet.
Some steps have been taken - like the
revision of the NOFN to BharatNet and an
increased budget of R72,000 crore (from
R20,000 crore) - but a lot more needs to be
done. Broadband has already generated 9
million direct and indirect jobs in India.
We need to understand the impact
high-speed internet could have on literacy
rates. If broadband was to be treated as a
utility, teachers from municipal schools
could go beyond linear means of teaching
and demonstrate concepts better, while
measuring progress of students.
A Deloitte report, Broadband - The Lifeline of
Digital India, states: "Broadband has been
transforming many economies and rapidly
becoming a utility. Economic growth can be
achieved when more people have easy access
to information, retail and service sectors."
Making broadband a utility is easier said than
done. Various stakeholders must work
towards this goal, which is part of the Digital
India initiative. Understanding what our
obstacles are, what needs to be done to
achieve this and why this is important, is the
first step forward.
CEO, Sterlite Technologies