ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 13, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 46
Financial Times  

TRC seeks public help with national backbone network

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRC) has called for public scrutiny of a TRC proposal for a national backbone network in to implementation, and to make comments on it.

Lack of high-speed, low-cost Internet connections is a major problem in the country. The facility is mainly limited to urban areas which have the ADSL facility via phone lines. Wireless broadband services have also since late been offered by some service providers. In reality, however, the speeds at which the connections are available are much lower than those advertised by the providers because of the limited bandwidth capability. The lack of proper facilities in the rural areas is also hampering the success of the government’s policy objectives, according to the paper published recently by the TRC.

For the government’s eSriLanka initiative to be fully functional, and ICT to be fully penetrated throughout the island, the government is looking at full ICT connectivity-at electorate level in all the districts-by 2013.

The rural areas are also losing out on poverty alleviation initiatives, health and community benefits because of lack of connectivity. The high demand for E-commerce, IP-based communication and connectivity in general is not being satisfied, it said.

The problem lies mainly in the fact that the current service providers are supply-constrained. The combined abilities of the service providers are not adequate to meet with the rising demand for connectivity. Many of them rely on point-to-point microwave link, which is a costly investment.

This in turn affects mobile service providers, who are a force to construct their own transmission networks which have limited coverage, and/or piggy back on the backbone network of another operator, leasing out its capacity, which is invariably a costly move.

The national backbone network is bound to help on more than one front. The SEAMEWE 2 and SEMEWE 3 submarines provide long-haul, international, bandwidth to Sri Lanka. Access is available through these cables to most of the South Asia, Middle Eastern and through them to Europe. Other than SLT however, none of the operators has ready access to these.

If a national backbone could be connected to the cables, the operators could enjoy the long-haul connectivity sans any barrier. All the operators plus those who might join in the future could enjoy the benefits of low-cost administration of their connections, which in turn would translates in to lower prices of internet connectivity across the island, the paper says.

The TRC sees a Public-Private partnership to be the best method of going about implementing the national platform. According to them, the main objective of the venture is to “promote social and economic development by providing cost-effective, reliable and high speed connectivity to citizens of Sri Lanka irrespective of their location.” The project is hoped to provide Internet access at a rate of 2MBPS, with the adequate bandwidth provided via Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing Technology (DWDM).

Private sector partnership has been solicited due to the numerous success stories of such projects in various other countries. The PPP could be carried out via a number of business models: universal Service Obligation style funding, the Build-Operate-Transfer method, Auction for network layers or Consortium of operators. Each of these models has the two sectors working on the project on different scales of involvement.

The current regulation does not inhibit the national backbone network initiative, but there is room for new regulation as well. The backbone network should leave room for any new generation innovations that come along the way, the paper said.

The TRC is looking for ideas and suggestion on how best to carry this out and is looking at all sectors involved in the planning, managing and implementing stages. The written submissions will be displayed on the TRC website except those deemed confidential.


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