Even as the country’s top mobile operators are busy rolling out their 4G services to offer high-speed data to the consumers, communications & IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is working on alternate models to enhance digital delivery.
In an interview with FE, Prasad said that with the recent approval by the telecom commission to allow virtual network operators (VNOs) in the country and Aadhaar accounts touching 100 crore, his five platforms for Digital India have taken shape which will be taken forward.
“The guidelines for VNOs will be unveiled shortly. I am going to take a flexible approach while making the guideline so that one VNO can tie-up with multiple network service operators. Also, if any network operator wants that only a part of a circle, say a district or a cluster of districts, is handed over to a VNO that will be allowed. We will explore newer models,” Prasad said.
VNOs are not licensed telecom operators. They are players who are interested in consumer-facing businesses and have marketing abilities. They buy bandwidth and airtime from licensed operators and retail them to consumers.
Though, India has allowed such players to provide services quite late, Prasad said that the way he’s devised his digital agenda they will be quite relevant and help in rural marketing. “Also they will enable weaker operators with spectrum, and here I include BSNL and MTNL, to utilise their infrastructure effectively,” Prasad said. “A weak operator can now have a choice between spectrum sharing, trading and VNOs to effectively utilise its infrastructure,” he added.
“I have provided Internet Service Providers’ licence to all common service centres (CSCs). All village post offices will also be turned into CSCs and in turn ISPs. These will be allowed to become VNOs. This combined infrastructure will create an alternate model of digital delivery. All this, infrastructure will give a leg up to rural marketing,” he said.
The five pillars of Prasad’s Digital delivery platform will thus be: a network of postal offices (125,000) with core banking facilities; a optic fibre network; CSCs (currently 83,000 to go up to 157,000); rural BPOs where government will provide a subsidy of R1 lakh per seat; and VNOs. The platform thus created by the synergy of these five will be facilitated by Aadhar.
“The platform thus created will be free to explore entrepreneurial ways to maximise their earnings and reach. They will be free to strike alliances with private parties. Am sure, e-commerce firms, broadband firms will tap into them to maximise their reach in rural areas. They will also provide employment,” Prasad said.
Pointing towards the huge potential this platform will have in the form of digital delivery, literacy and employment, Prasad said, “Just see the scope, for payment bank all major insurance firms (barring LIC) and private banks (domestic as well as foreign) have shown interest in partnering with India Post.”