Its a converged world

Updated: Mar 24 2006, 05:30am hrs
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has rightly pushed the central government to speedily move on a legal framework to govern use of emerging technologies in telecom, information technology and broadcasting. With technology blurring the lines between telecommunication and broadcasting, a comprehensive law governing both is imperative. In keeping with best regulatory traditions, Trai suggests services be technology-agnostic, not hampered by overly expensive charges such as licence fees or other imposts that tilt the playing field in favour of any one technology over the other. Unified licensing, greater flexibility in spectrum allocation and reduction in licence fee are all commendable suggestions and need to be considered on a priority basis.

However, that wont be easy, given the powerful entrenched interests. Today, if a nationwide cable TV or direct to home (DTH) network wants to offer phone services to its customers, all it needs is to pay a Rs 5 crore entry fee and a few lakhs for each metropolis or state it aims to operate in. The quality of such phone-over-cable service will not be different from legacy fixed-line phones, but the costs could be much cheaper and large fixed-line service providers could get hit. Similarly, if an internet service provider riding delicensedand so, freewireless spectrum decides to offer voice calls on portable smartphones riding voice over WiFi software, such as Skype, todays mobile phone companies risk being killed. So, the government will face intense pressure from mobile phone companies against the proposed convergence law.

This partly explains why the Communications Convergence Bill, 2001, lapsed. But the interim arrangement, of Trai regulating the broadcast sector without clear statutory backing, is not happy. So, it is good that Trai has again spotlit the issue. Sure, sectors like telecom and broadcasting, where technology is fast evolving, face a much higher risk of obsolescence. But that is no reason why any player or technology should be protected. Bottomline: dont hold consumers to ransom.