For the first time in at least 10 quarters in a row, share of broadband subscriptions in total Internet subscriptions declined during the October – December 2011 period, said a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) report.

Share of broadband subscription in total Internet subscription decreased from 61.1% at the end of September 2011 to 59.6% at the end of December 2011, the TRAI release noted. While it’s become quite a routine now for broadband targets to be missed time and again, the decline in broadband share comes as a bit of a setback.

This sounds defeating, especially when policy makers are understandably giving final touches to the new telecom policy, presumably to promote broadband growth in a big way, among other key things. Incidentally, TRAI’s recommendation on national broadband plan has also been pending for action since December 2010.

By contrast, a year ago, the broadband share had increased from 57.6% in September 2010 to 58.8% in December 2010, while two years ago the increase had been from 49.3% in September 2009 to 51.3% in December 2009.

Wireline broadband seems to have slowed down in the recent quarters, with some telcos registering nearly flat quarter-on-quarter growths recently. In particular, digital subscriber line (DSL) subscriptions, which constitute more than 85 per cent of wireline broadband subscriptions in India, have seen slowed growth in the recent quarters.

Are 3G rollouts leading to a cannibalization of the wireline broadband services?

A weakening of wireline broadband is certainly not good for the long-term health and development of telecom in the country. The National Broadband Plan recommendations had envisaged provision of 160 million broadband connections by the year 2014, of which 22 million would be DSL, 78 million cable and 60 million wireless. A shrinking share of wireline broadband in Internet subscriptions would be contradictory.

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