Upheavals in the telecom sector following the entry of Reliance Jio will settled down once consolidation takes place and there is no threat to jobs, Union minister Manoj Sinha said today. “Telecom sector is an open market. We cannot stop anyone from entering it. I would like to say one thing that in 2003, when new players entered the market similar upheaval took place but everything was settled in 1-2 years. I don’t feel there is any threat to jobs,” Sinha said while talking about the progress made by the Modi government in last three years.
Incumbent telecom operators — Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular — have seen decline in their business after the entry of Reliance Jio last September. It was offering free 4G services till March and voice calls free forever. The competition benefited consumers as mobile data rates dipped to about Rs 10 per gigabyte from about Rs 200 per GB a year ago. Reliance Communications (RCom) and Idea posted losses for October-December quarter of last fiscal.
Vodafone and Idea are in process of merging their business. RCom, Sistema Shyam and Aircel are also merging their mobile business. RCom and Tata Teleservices have learned to have cut about 500-600 jobs on the basis of non-performance. “In most parts of the world there are 2-3 companies and in this country also we feel there will be 4-5 operators with good and healthy competition,” the telecom minister said in response to a query about his views on entry of new operators and threat to jobs in the sector.
There are currently 10 telecom operators in the country. Telecom operators have said that the financial crisis due to reduction in earnings has deepened for them and proposed 18 per cent tax will add to their woes. “15 per cent tax is already imposed on telecom companies. It has now been brought under 18 per cent slab of GST. There is difference of three per cent. They (telecom companies) are planning to meet GST Council members. We are monitoring it seriously at our level,” Sinha said.
He said that in last three years trust of investors in telecom sector has increased. “Now whether it be foreign investors or domestic investors, they believe that this government is a transparent government. If you look at equity flow, then in 2016-17 it has reached $ 5,564 million which is four times more than annual flow of $ 1.3 billion in 2013-14. We conducted two spectrum auctions and none of our opponents could point fingers at it,” Sinha said.
He said that net mobile phone addition in the country was 266.07 million from 2014-17, compared to 92.92 in 2011-14. “Compared to 358 kilometre of optical fibre, 2,02,675 kilometres of OFC has been laid in last three years. By December 2018 all the 2.5 lakh gram panchayats will be connected with OFC,” Sinha said.
When asked about the high number of unconnected villages in the country, at around 52,000, Sinha said he does not believe the number to be that low and his ministry has asked state governments to share the number of unconnected villages. “Home Ministry had given us task to install 2,199 mobile towers in left wing extremist area. Out of this, we have 2,187 installed. Some towers are left to be installed because of the law and order situation in those area. We are about to close tender for mobile coverage in 8,621 villages in North Eastern states and national highways,” Sinha said.
He said the government is in the process of issuing tender for providing connectivity to Andaman and Nicobar Islands through submarine cables. Talking about works at Department of Posts, Sinha said that out of 129 proposed Post office Passport Seva Kendra, 50 centres have been inaugurated and at many locations an average of 100 applications are being received on daily basis.