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Indian DoT To Set Up National Backbone

The Department of Telecom (DoT), India's monopoly telecom player, will establish its own Internet backbone, crossing the entire Indian subcontinent within six months.

The Telecom Commission of India has set January 26, 2000 as deadline for setting up Internet access nodes at every district in India.

The project cost for the national Internet infrastructure is estimated to the tune of $100 million. The DoT has the basic network in place.

"The DoT has plans to set up its own backbone covering nearly 45 cities in the first phase." says N.Parameswaran, Deputy Director-General, DoT.

The backbone will carry Internet traffic and function as an integrated facility for traffic and network management. According to Parameswaran, DoT has to increase the bandwidth and other facilities for easy Internet access and the entire project would be completed in a year.

According to sources, DoT plans to set up five international gateways in India's mega metros -- New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta and Bangalore -- with 34 Mbps connectivity in the first instance. DoT launched Internet services last year and now is operating Internet nodes in 54 areas. It has a customer base of nearly 50,000 subscribers.

The national Internet backbone would mainly help the ISPs in the smaller cities, said Parameswaran, Out of 132 ISP licenses issued till date, 67 were for the smaller cities.

However, skeptics are not convinced about DoT's newfound helpful tendency. DoT's plan may be to continue with its monopoly practices, they fear. Since all ISPs will have to access the DoT's network, or that of or its offshoot Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited [MTNL], at some point in time the DoT may throw in a charge will have a direct effect on the ISPs' cost of operations.

But DoT sources say that the backbone infrastructure would supplement the efforts of the private ISPs, eventually creating effective and easy connectivity for the subscribers.

The biggest issue affecting ISPs is lack of bandwidth availability. As they are completely dependent on DoT and MTNL for PTSN, ISDN and E1/R2 lines, many ISPs have not been able to start services even several months after schedule.

The ISDN and E1/R2 lines are not easily available everywhere in the country and their pricing has been open to different interpretations by the ISP and local telecom authorities in different cities.

Similarly, for the availability of long-distance lease lines, certain ISPs have bitterly complained of being made to run from pillar to post by the circle officers. The monopoly practices of DoT officials may continue in small cities, hence the apprehension from smaller ISPs.

According to sources in DoT, work on the implementation of the national backbone was proceeding as scheduled. The tenders for equipment procurement have been finalized and advance purchase orders have been placed. Heads of telecom circles have been authorized to get equipment for setting up nodes at every district.

DoT also offered the ISPs to consider their request to allow using wireless in local loop (WLL) technology to provide connection between internet users and their control centers.