A new road map

A new road map

The new draft telecom policy unveiled by union communications minister Kapil Sibal has a number of commendable proposals and provides an impressive road map for the growth of the sector in the next 10 years. A long-term blueprint for a sector which impacts and is in turn impacted by social and economic changes  and where technology gets obsolete and new technologies arise in a short span of time runs the risk of frequent course corrections and revisions, but a picture of  predictable future is necessary for policy formulation and implementation in the present. Many of the new proposals are attractive from the point of the customer and in terms of national interest and those of stakeholders like telecom operators. It is not easy to cater to the interests of all, but an attempt has been made for this.

The proposals for a one nation, one licence structure instead of the present system of 22 separate telecom circles, an end to roaming charges and introduction of national number portability will be welcomed by consumers. Operators might try to make up for the loss of roaming revenue by raising charges but TRAI will have to address this issue at that stage.

An important proposal is for a single licence for voice and data, which will effect a convergence between telephony, broadband, broadcast etc, and change the way mobile phones are used now. This can boost business and entertainment sectors and can benefit ordinary customers, like even farmers, in many ways, especially if the tele-density goes up to 100 per cent as being planned. The availability of spectrum will go up substantially by 2020 and if companies can pool, share and trade in spectrum, as proposed, that will lead to more efficient use of the resource. The granting of infrastructure status for the telecom sector was long overdue, and with it, the sector will have greater access to funds and benefit from the resulting rationalisation of taxes and levies.

The principle of promoting social and economic development, and not maximising government revenue, as the main objective of the new policy is unexceptionable.  But it should be remembered that A Raja had misinterpreted and misused this idea to benefit himself and his favourites. Kapil Sibal had even tried to defend Raja on this ground. Future telecom authorities will have to learn lessons from the past and  ensure that implementation of the policy will serve public interest and not private gains.

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