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Points Of Presence

Editorial Director, Communications ASP

[February 9, 2001]

The True Spirit of Convergence

I was happy to learn that the draft of India's proposed Communications Convergence Bill has finally been posted on the Web for public comment and review. Apparently, part of the delay in getting the bill posted weeks after it had been approved by a review board was a dispute over which Ministry's Web site it would appear on. The Ministries of Communications, Information and Broadcasting, and Information Technology would be merged into one entity if Parliament approves the bill. The Department of Telecom (part of the Ministry of Communications) ultimately posted it.

It's ironic that these three branches of government are having such a difficult time disseminating public information on a communications convergence bill (for more information on the bill, see my previous column), one that will converge them into one governing body. It's a testament to the old way of doing business and handling communications and technology, and a sign that convergence is much needed in many areas of the Indian government. The proposed bill neatly outlines the objectives for the converged regulatory body, which will in turn facilitate communications and technology convergence. It also makes a pretty bold statement about the communications environment throughout the world, although some countries take their convergence freedoms for granted. The bill states: "Convergence in this context means convergence of mediums or technologies facilitating provision of all services by using a given facility or network and vice versa. It also means convergence of services at the provider's end as well as the consumer's end, meaning, thereby, a service provider should be able to provide a whole range of technologically feasible services and a consumer should be able to receive all services through a given terminal at any time and place of his choice."

India's plan is to speed convergence by instituting licenses for network infrastructure facilities, network services, application services, and content application services. I was impressed by the solid breakdown of these categories, and I think the proposal is a great recipe for convergence -- one we can all benefit from. Too often, the lines between application service providers (ASPs), hosting/infrastructure providers, and providers of application content are blurred. And the bill refers to Internet telephony and Webcasting as new services, and states that in "an era of convergence, an ASP/content ASP could utilize the services of any network service provider for carrying their application/content. In turn, the network service provider would have the flexibility to utilize the infrastructure provided by any network facility provider to carry application/content from any ASP/content ASP." The network facility provider could provide the infrastructure to any network service provider as well.

The Economic Advisory Council, an advisory panel to the prime minister comprising some of the country's high-ranking bureaucrats, recently recommended VoIP be allowed in India. While India's government-owned VSNL has a monopoly on long-distance services, the country opened local telecom service to private sector companies last month; 13 companies have applied for licenses so far. The panel also backed plans by the Indian Railways and Power Grid Corporation to build fiber optic cables along their rights of way.

India's National Association of Software Service Companies (NASSCOM) said earlier this week that it expects VoIP to be legalized as early as next year. Parliament is expected to vote on the Communications Convergence Bill this summer, and if passed, the new converged infrastructure would pave the wave for legalized VoIP in India.

Laura Guevin welcomes your comments at lguevin@tmcnet.com.

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