Reliance Jio Fiber will expand the market for everyoneReliance Industries has proposed to bring optical fibre to the in 1,100 towns.

This is good news that promises to unleash new creativity across urban India, creating new businesses, enhancing the quality and quantity of education and healthcare, and creating new possibilities in entertainment.

At the same time, such a massive expansion of operations by one single connectivity provider would call for strict monitoring and enforcement of regulatory norms, to prevent abuse of monopoly and, in particular, safeguard net neutrality.

A provider of connectivity should not privilege any content or degrade access to any rival’s content. If this is ensured, content creators of all kinds stand to gain from the spread of fixed-line broadband.

India has nearly 8,000 towns, according to the 2011Census. But only 468 of them have a population exceeding one lakh, and these account for 70% of the total urban population.

India is poised for a leap in urbanisation, however. As economic growth accelerates, more jobs will be created in industry and services, which take place in urban environs, than in agriculture.

This is the inexorable logic of urbanisation. Modern urbanisation will depend on high-speed connectivity, for machine-to-machine traffic and for human-to-machine and human-to-human communications. While the last-mile delivery of would depend on wireless technologies, backhaul connectivity has to be provided by fibre.

For a company that has already laid optical fibre trunk routes across the country, it makes sense to fully utilise that infrastructure by laying networks in towns along the trunk routes.

Municipal bodies would do well to offer easy right of way, to make their cities fully , instead of seeing right of way as a means of extracting rent from telcos. All optical fibre, save that of defence, should run on open access principles.

Reliance promises to integrate its physical retail with a new online retail business. Its main advantage would be freedom from the restrictions on foreign investors in retail. The sector needs a level playing field.

(This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.)



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