May 31, 2012 02:23 PM

Broadband Bulls Edge toward National Strategy


(Beijing)–The question of where to draw a line between government and market responsibilities is complicating an ambitious plan to improve the nation's broadband Internet service.

Several central government agencies and state-run telecoms are mired in the debate that could upset a fast-track timetable pushed by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The plan, when completed, is supposed to be a blueprint for unifying and upgrading a national cyber information network currently controlled by two state-owned, fixed-line telecoms.

Access to high-speed broadband is generally well developed in major cities. But service in smaller cities can be spotty. Meanwhile, many rural areas in western and central parts of the country have no access at all.

An NDRC and MIIT joint announcement in March called for all research, opinions and a final draft to be completed and submitted to the State Council by June. Input was coming from officials at six agencies including the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Science and Technology.

But an industry expert participating in the drafting process said: "There's certainly no way the draft can be formulated by May. There won't be preliminary results until at least July."

And Xu Jianping, a deputy inspector working in NDRC's High-Tech Industry Department, said he doesn't expect the draft to be ready for State Council review until the end of September.

The aforementioned expert said the effort has been complicated by the sometimes conflicting interests of telecoms, regulators and government planners that complement ongoing debates among members of a working group writing the draft. Even certain basic issues, he said, have yet to be settled.

One issue is whether the primary goal for the nation's next broadband strategy should be universal coverage, high-speed service or something else. Another is whether market investment or state investment through subsidies should finance the improvements.

"There's no clear direction as to how to (upgrade broadband) specifically, and there are disagreements between various parties," said an official working on the draft.

Nudging Telecoms

China's public international broadband Internet nodes are in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, controlled by China Telecom and China Unicom. Every network in China, regardless of its operator, has to use one of these nodes for international access.

An NDRC probe in 2011 into whether China Unicom and China Telecom monopolized broadband laid the groundwork for adding Internet services on a government agenda for change.

China Unicom and China Telecom, which control the nation's fixed lines, hope to gain access to state investments or subsidies in the area of fixed-line broadband.

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