The much hyped about, Goa Broadband network (GBBN) which was expected to empower minimum of 80,000 households in the state with high bandwidth connectivity at very affordable rates by 2016 has miserably failed in its objectives.
GBBN Project – how far has it penetrated in Goa
The project has been able to reach out to just 1397 households in the past 9 years since the implementation of the project thanks to the hostile approach and exorbitant rates charged by the company. This is just 1.75% of the base target household connectivity figure of 80,000.
As on November 30, 2014 the following services are provided through GBBN at the citizen level – Internet Home Plans- 1397, Internet Corporate Plans- 370, Fibre on Lease- 1. These were the official figures presented to the high profile audience by the Principal Secretary (IT), Govt. of Goa, R. K. Srivastava at an e-governance leadership meet held in January 2015.
Provisions specified in the RFP
The Department of Information Technology & Communication, Government of Goa ( GoG) entered into agreement with United Telecoms Limited(UTL) on 6 Nov 2006 to implement a Fiber based Gigabit State Wide Area Network. The RFP floated on 5th July 2006 which was later amended on 2nd August 2006 clearly states that ‘One of the prime objectives of the GBBN project is to provide reliable, affordable high-bandwidth network broadband connectivity to the households throughout the State.’
The RFP further elaborates that the total number of households that may take up connectivity would be 56,000 Urban households; and 25,000 Rural households; Thus the total number of estimated households would be approximately 80,000 of 3,81,584 occupied houses (2001 Census Statistics was used to come up with the figure). Maximum price to be charged for internet bandwidth to the households at 256 Kbps was also slated in the RFP at Rs 270 per month for the first five years and with upto 40% increase if the need be after that in due consultation with the Goa Government.
A clause in the RFP also stated that the bidder may provide services at lower prices to spur more demand but he shall not charge the citizens higher than the quoted amounts for 5 years after go-live of Phase I. In addition, RFP also provided a tentative list of core services such as Intranet Data Services ,connectivity and service delivery for educational services, health care services and any other services provided by GoG or it Semi-Government Organizations, Cable TV services , Online-health care services, Video-on-Demand with FF, Playback, rewind and record, Local/ Long Distance Telephony with IP Telephones, Distance education, High speed internet connectivity, Other B2B and C2C services.
9 years down the line GBBN is yet to benefit Goans
Nearly 9 years down the line the highly decorated project has not been able to benefit the citizens of the state as envisaged during the planning of the project. Neither are the services available nor is affordable connectivity offered to the citizens of Goa.
As per the UTL officials the company has laid more than 2000 Kms of Optical fiber across the state of Goa using GPON Technology for fiber distribution. But the only beneficiaries of GBBN are a few Government offices/departments/corporations. Moreover, just a handful of them use the full potential of the network. But by and large the Goan common man is yet to receive his due share of this connectivity superhighway.
GBBN and domestic connectivity
The primary reason why the project is yet to make inroads in the domestic connectivity segment in the state is the apathy of the implementing agency i.e UTL’s internet services Gwave . Thanks to the hostile approach of the customer care team and the exorbitant rates that are charged for the services, Gwave has been able to provide connectivity to hardly 1397 homes and 370 businesses in 9 years! It appears that they are not interested in small money from common consumers but prefer to opt for more and easy money which comes only through government channels and that too without any accountability.
The GBBN connectivity hurdle race for common citizen
The first and foremost hurdle a GBBN connectivity desirous citizen has to cross is that of the feasibility study. When a citizen makes an inquiry for connectivity they are told that a feasibility study will be made by Gwave about the possibility of providing connectivity. It has been observed by and large that the feasibility study team does not turn up on first request. Only on further and consistent follow up by citizens the Gwave team eventually comes and does the feasibility study.
The next issue is of connectivity from the terminal point to the citizens dwelling. Gwave expects citizens to pay for the fiber at the rate of Rupees 20 per meter of Optic Fiber Cable which would be pulled upto his/her house. Since the Gwave terminal points are faraway in most of the cases the price quoted for laying the cable itself turns up to be a few thousand rupees and can even go over ten thousand rupees, more specifically in the rural areas.
Comparative high pricing
The Gwave broadband plans are also comparatively highly priced and therefore out of reach of common man. The general public who is actually supposed be the focal point of this citizen centric initiative is totally sidelined. There are no special plans offered for common man or rural connectivity.
As of February 2015, the basic 512 Kbps Unlimited plan is charged at Rs.698/- per month or Rs.7678/-per year. The 1 Mbps Unlimited plan is charged at Rs.1200/-per month or Rs. 13200/-per year whereas 2 Mbps one is tagged at Rs.1998/-per month or Rs.21978/- per year. High end plans are also available. Over and above these plan charges add on charges such as service tax, equipment charges etc. are applicable.
Is it not possible for GBBN to come up with plans like the BSNL- USOF ( Universal Service Obligation Fund ) which offer limited rural connectivity at as low as 99 rupees? Or is it that the common man who has paid for the project through his taxes does not have any significance in the books of GBBN?
The present financial outgo of the project is Rs 218.03 crores. In addition to this with every add on connection beyond 414 buildings/locations (Termination points) the Government of Goa now pays to UTL Rs 22,200/- per quarter (for 1Gbps(1:8) sharing) and Rs 78,800/-per quarter (for 1Gbps(1:1) sharing) per connection.
With the kind of money the public exchequer has pumped into commissioning of the GBBN project in Goa he/she surely deserved a much better deal!