Ensuring proper connectivity

Roopinder Singh

Broadband connections in India are often not fast enough, and one of the most frequent complaints by consumers is that the Internet connectivity is not as quick as promised by the Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Millions of Internet users in India will be thankful to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) which has given guidelines to ensure that ISPs and telecom operators will provide the minimum required broadband speed to their customers.

In its guidelines, TRAI said: “There have been complaints from the subscribers regarding inadequate broadband speed being provided by the ISPs. Most of the complaints allege that the available broadband speed is lower than the subscribed speed.”

Your Internet connection is like a pipe, fatter the pipe, faster the information will flow. Till now you had not way of finding out how many taps (other users) were there on your pipe, but now this is changing.

For the first time, TRAI has fixed a minimum bandwidth ‘contention ratio’ which tells you, the user, how many people you are sharing the allocated bandwidth with. As most readers will know, bandwidth is the amount of data (like e-mails, web pages or picture files) that can be transferred over a particular Internet connection in a specified period of time (e.g. 1 megabyte per second).

Practically all, other than very expensive and exclusive connections, are shared by those who are geographically in a particular location and your connection’s speed will depend on how many people in your neighbourhood are online. The less people online, the faster your access to the Internet.

Internationally, the broadband contention ratio is 1:50 for home connections, which means that when you are online, 49 other people can also be using the service at the same time. The number of Internet subscribers in India is pegged at 12.24 million (end of September 2008) and broadband subscribers number 5.28 million (end of November 2008).

Since there was no fixed norm prior to the TRAI guideline, operators were giving service at a contention ratio of 1:80 to 1:100. TRAI has fixed the contention ratio for home at 1:50 and for business at 1:30. Businesses pay more for the privilege.

The new policy has given rise to fears that broadband tariffs may increase, since operators will have to buy more bandwidth to maintain the norms. However, this line of thinking might just turn out to be a fallacious and competitive spirits among various players, plus a nudge from the regulator, would ensure you do not have to pay more for efficient service.

Of course, contention ratio is only a part of the solution, and as TRAI itself realises, there are number of factors that impact broadband speed. They include length and quality of the local loop (also called last mile), “bandwidth availability at ISP’s gateway, congestion in the global internet, problems with subscriber’s equipment … .” However, fixing the contention ratio will, no doubt, go a long way in making the ISPs more responsible and the consumers more aware of their rights.

This article was published in The Tribune on March 6, 2009