By Nachiket Kondhalkar
The Telecom Ministry has set up working groups to deliberate on a New Telecom Policy (NTP). it may become a reality by March 2018. India has the world’s fastest-growing Internet population that may surpass China as the largest internet economy.
With this in mind, the new Telecom Policy will focus on providing affordable internet access to 1.3 billion Indians. It will also promote domestic manufacturing to curb dependence on imports. Data protection, privacy, and cyber security are also important highlights. With this policy, the Telecom Industry will move towards higher technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) for policy-making, and offer wider services at cheaper rates. The NITI Aayog has already started using satellite photography to track crop growth patterns.
“What was applicable five years back is no more relevant in today’s context and new policies will need to be futuristic,” Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha said.
Challenges: A trouble-stricken sector
At present, the telecom industry is bleeding money. Its revenues have been declining for the first time since 2008-09—from Rs 1.93 trillion to Rs 1.88 trillion. Reliance Jio’s low-cost and virtually free services have dented all Telco’s severely. The sector is predicted to decline further to about Rs 1.84 trillion in 2017-18.
With 5G auctions on the horizon, the government is now focussing on “future-proof” technologies. It hopes that it can not only grow the sector’s revenues but also further its own Digital India vision.
The additional spectrum and upgrade technology and equipment may cost over Rs 200,000 Crore. A strong optical fibre backbone to ensure affordable and quality broadband access to all is also necessary. However, with profitability declining and revenues slipping, making such high investments looks difficult. India also continues to be a high taxation country as far as telecom services are concerned and needs addressing in the new policy.
The industry and policy makers agree on the need to simplify regulations as many have become outdated and redundant.
What could the policy change?
Analysts estimate that improved technologies can increase telecom sector revenues by about 20%. High-speed data along with AI services will spur consumption. It will also coincide with the current smart phone boom in the country. 70% of India is still a feature-phone market. Hence, the opportunity for telcos to grow their services is huge. Telcos have reportedly prepared a 100-day action plan, wherein they have committed to deploy 60,000 base transceiver stations and invest Rs 12,000 Crore.
Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said that broadband infrastructure should be used to deliver services like healthcare, education, financial services to as many people as possible. It requires a change in perspective in the way issues are tackled.
The NTP 2018 gives the government an opportunity to consider these thoughts to ease some of the financial stress the sector is witnessing. The idea is to re-boot the regulatory framework and add some more throttle to the engine of telecom growth under Digital India.
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