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New Delhi:In a move that could potentially boost the government’s Digital India initiative, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India sought public feedback on a policy to expand broadband access through public Wi-Fi networks.

The regulator’s consultation paper seeks suggestions on issues including growth of public Wi-Fi networks, regulatory and licensing measures required for expansion of Wi-Fi across cities and rural areas. Trai has also addressed the issue of interoperability between cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the paper.

As the Wi-Fi technology uses de-licensed spectrum, Trai sought suggestions on whether more frequency bands should be de-licensed to accelerate the expansion of broadband Wi-Fi networks.

Improving Internet connectivity is critical for the success of the Digital India campaign that aims to provide government services electronically to citizens.

Other issues addressed by Trai are of authentication and payments facilitation by a third party and feasibility of developing an architecture to enable small entities to become data service providers to consumers.

Public Wi-Fi is an essential component of the Digital India initiative and one of its nine pillars, said Ashis Sanyal, a former senior director at the department of electronics and information technology.

“Public Wi-Fi networks are possible and have been successfully deployed in many countries. An appropriate policy regime will make it available in India as well, addressing key issues of access points and service providers. The right model for implementation would be making it a revenue-based model where the cost is dependent on revenue."

India ranked 108th globally in terms of affordability of fixed-line broadband services and 97th for mobile broadband services (post-paid, handset-based) in 2014, underscoring the need for affordable and flexible ways to expand Internet access, Trai said in its paper.

The paper has proposed several ways for the deployment of Wi-Fi hot spots, including free, partly free and advertisement-based models.

“The expansion of public Wi-Fi should not be limited to deployment and expansion policies to give access to citizens but also in educating them about such services. Therefore, the government must undertake IT literacy programmes, especially in rural areas", said Ambuj Anand, a researcher on e-governance. He added that the government must ensure that such networks become open platforms, especially while running on advertisement models, to avoid breach of net neutrality principles.

Another important concern with public Wi-Fi is security of networks and cyber crimes. There have been numerous cases of security vulnerabilities in public Wi-Fi networks worldwide.

Last year, Google Inc. announced a collaboration with RailTel Corp. to extend public Wi-Fi services to 100 railway station by the end of 2016. The programme was later expanded to 400 stations. The project, which uses RailTel’s exclusive pan-India optic fibre strength on railway tracks, is one of the largest public Wi-Fi projects in India.

Trai has sought public feedback on the paper by 10 August.

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