India’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology Kapil Sibal Monday unveiled the draft National Telecom Policy 2011.
The unveiling of the new policy is significant because the last telecom policy was unveiled in 1999 when India had only a few million phone subscribers. The policy is also very important keeping in mind the ongoing controversy of the 2G scam, dubbed as one of the largest corruption scandals in the history of independent India.
“The draft policy aims to provide to the people of India secure, reliable, affordable and high quality converged telecommunication services anytime, anywhere,” the policy document states.
Sibal, while unveiling the draft policy said that the thrust of this policy is to underscore the imperative that sustained adoption of technology would offer viable options in overcoming developmental challenges in education, health, employment generation, financial inclusion and much else.
“NTP-2011 has the vision ‘Broadband on Demand’ and envisages leveraging telecom infrastructure to enable all citizens and businesses, both in rural and urban landscape, to participate in the Internet and web economy thereby ensuring equitable and inclusive development across the nation,” Sibal highlighted.
While underlining the salient points of the draft policy, Sibal said that it is now imperative to move towards convergence between telecom, broadcast and IT services, networks, platforms, technologies and to overcome the existing segregation of licensing, registration and regulatory mechanisms in these areas to enhance affordability, increase access, delivery of multiple services and reduce cost.
The proposed policy draft addresses a host of vital issues plaguing the telecom sector in India. Some of them are explained below:
1. Spectrum availability and management: According to a news report, the average spectrum holding in India is around a third of the world average (18 MHz/operator). The draft policy addresses the issue by proposing to:
- Optimize transmission of services to consumers irrespective of their devices or locations by Fixed-Mobile Convergence thus making available valuable spectrum for other wireless services.
- Ensure adequate availability of spectrum and its allocation in a transparent manner through market related processes. Make available additional 300 MHz spectrum for IMT services by the year 2017 and another 200 MHz by 2020.
- Promote efficient use of spectrum with provision of regular audit of spectrum usage.
- Ensure the availability of sufficient microwave spectrum to meet current and future demand for wireless backhaul especially in prime bands below 12 GHz, in addition to higher spectrum bands. Unlicensed spectrum will be made available for proliferation of wireless broadband services.
- Make available adequate globally harmonised spectrum in the bands of 450 MHz, 700 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1910 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz and bands identified by ITU for commercial mobile services.
- Enact a separate ‘Spectrum Act’ which inter-alia deals with all issues connected with wireless (spectrum) licences and their terms and conditions including re-farming/ withdrawal of allotted spectrum, spectrum pricing, cancellation or revocation of spectrum licence, exemptions on use of spectrum, spectrum sharing, spectrum trading etc.
2. Falling investments: The 2G scandal has affected a host of telecom operators and the investment sentiment is low in the sector. To address these concerns, the draft policy proposes to:
- Create a special purpose ‘Telecom Finance Corporation’ as a vehicle to mobilize and channelize financing for telecom projects in order to facilitate investment in the telecom sector.
- Endeavor to include telecom sector projects within the ambit of financing from existing entities such as India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited (IIFCL).
- Rationalize taxes and levies affecting the sector and work towards providing a stable fiscal regime to stimulate investments and making services more affordable.
3. Controversy over licenses: The draft policy, while delinking spectrum in respect of all future licences and making it available through market related processes, addresses this issue by proposing to:
- Orient, review and harmonise the legal, regulatory and licensing framework in a time bound manner to enable seamless delivery of converged services in technology neutral environment.
- Move towards Unified Licence regime in order to exploit the attendant benefits of convergence, for which there is already an in-principle acceptance. A migration path will also have to be provided for existing licensees to Unified Licence Regime.
- Establish new licensing regime taking care of the requirements of level playing field, rollout obligations, policy on merger & acquisition and non-discriminatory interconnection while ensuring adequate competition.
- Allow sharing of Networks and delink the licensing of Networks from the delivery of Service to the end users to facilitate faster roll out of services across the country , enhance the quality of service, optimize the investment and address the issue of the digital divide.
4. Security implications: With the controversy over RIM’s BlackBerry services still looming large, the policy aims to:
- Mandate and enforce that the Telecom Service Providers take adequate measures to ensure the security of the communication flowing through their network by adopting contemporary information security standards.
- Provide communication assistance to the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) through regulatory measures in tune with national needs, keeping in view individual privacy and in line with international practices. To develop and deploy a state of the art system for providing assistance to LEAs.
- Create an institutional framework through regulatory measures to ensure that safe-to-connect devices are inducted into the Telecom Network and service providers take measures for ensuring the security of the network and the data/information flowing/stored in it.
- Build national capacity in all areas – specifically security standards, security testing, interception and monitoring capabilities and manufacturing of critical telecom equipment – that impinges on Telecom network security and communication assistance for law enforcement.
- Ensure security in an increasingly insecure cyber space, indigenously manufactured multi-functional SIM cards with indigenously designed chips incorporating specific laid down standards are considered critical. The whole electronics eco-system for this and other purposes, starting from the wafer fab needs to be built and hence is viewed as a key policy objective and outcome.
Other highlights of the draft National Telecom Policy 2011 include:
- Increasing teledensity to 60% by 2017 and 100% by 2020.
- Removal of roaming charges and introducing a stronger customer grievance redressal mechanism.
- Promoting the domestic production of telecommunication equipment to meet 80% Indian telecom sector demand through domestic manufacturing with a value addition of 65% by the year 2020.
- Striving to create ‘One Nation – One License’ across services and service areas.
- Providing affordable and reliable broadband on demand by the year 2015 and to achieve 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by the year 2020 at minimum 2 Mbps download speed and making available higher speeds of atleast 100 Mbps on demand.
- Strengthening the framework to address the environmental and health related concerns pertaining to the telecom sector.
- 300 MHz spectrum to be made available by 2017 and aim to 500 MHz spectrum available by 2020.
- Encouraging adoption of green policy in telecom and incentivize use of renewable resources for sustainability.
- Reviewing the TRAI Act with a view to addressing regulatory inadequacies/ impediments in effective discharge of its functions.