Telecom bottlenecks: Address gaps in 4G services to bridge digital divide - The Tribune India

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Telecom bottlenecks

Address gaps in 4G services to bridge digital divide

Telecom bottlenecks

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo

EVEN as the Department of Telecommunications has notified the new definition of a broadband connection, stipulating that it now requires a minimum speed of 2Mbps (megabits per second) to be provided by telecom operators, low mobile Internet speeds and weak cellular connectivity continue to plague consumers in small cities and towns across India. The 4G network towers in these areas — known as grey spots — are few and far between, and so overburdened by hordes of users that even a speed of 512Kbps (which was the previous minimum requirement) often remains elusive.

This digital divide is an ominous sign for a country that is keen to not only expedite and expand 5G services but also ensure 4G saturation up to the last mile. There are anomalies galore. Over 45,000 (7 per cent) of India’s villages do not have a 4G mobile network, notwithstanding the allocation of around Rs 48,000 crore by the Centre to bring unconnected villages under the 4G umbrella. What’s worse, India still has more than 35 crore 2G users. The Economic Survey 2022-23 has expressed the hope that 5G services will ‘unleash new economic opportunities and spur innovations by startups and business enterprises.’ However, the 5G push has to be complemented by plugging the gaps in 4G coverage in ‘barely connected’ areas so that customers get their money’s worth in terms of Internet access, speed and connectivity.

The Digital India Programme envisages transforming the country into ‘a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.’ One of its key aspects is the availability of high-speed Internet as a core utility for the delivery of services to citizens. Digital facilities have become indispensable to various sectors, be it education, healthcare, agriculture or banking. The new broadband definition, provided it is enforced stringently, can help in making a small but significant difference on the ground. The overall focus should be on improving connectivity and reducing network congestion so that every user anywhere can make the most of online platforms. The world’s fastest-growing major economy cannot afford to let the engine of growth slow down due to frustratingly low Internet speeds.

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