Nod For Unified Telecom Licence Regime

New Delhi, September 29: | Updated: Sep 30 2003, 05:30am hrs
The group of ministers (GoM) on telecom has agreed in principle to go ahead with unified licensing. In its meeting on September 25, a consensus was reached and it was decided that the modalities of introducing the unified licence regime would be worked out at the next meeting in the first week of October.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will make a presentation to the GoM on the issue after which the roadmap will be drawn up. Trai has been working on devising a new licence framework through a consultation process with stake-holders.

According to highly placed government sources close to the GoM, the ministers agreed to pursue unified licensing to take the Indian telecom sector from a state of confusion to clarity without any prejudice to benefit any one section of the industry.

In response to contradictory reports in the media regarding a decision on unified licence, the finance ministry has also issued a clarification late on Monday: The finance ministry emphatically states that there is no disagreement on any of the issues. The GoM in its meeting held on September 25 had taken all decisions unanimously. These included: About releasing of adequate spectrum needed for the growth of the telecom sector; charting a course towards a unified licensing regime; and reviewing adequacy of steps for enforcing limited mobility within SDCA for WLL(M) services of basic operators, and recommending the future course of action in this regard.

The clarification note of the finance ministry further said, On each of these issues, not only was there no disagreement, there was no difference of approach either. It is further clarified that necessary follow up steps have already been taken on all issues, including the three listed above. The finance minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, is heading the GoM on telecom.

The unified telecom licence regime, as proposed by Trai, would mean that wireline (fixed) and wireless (cellular and wireless in local loop or WLL) services would be brought under one licence.

In other words, the operators would be allowed to offer all kind of wireless and wireline services under one licence. Trai, however, has kept the international long distance (ILD) and national long distance (NLD) licence out of the unified licence in its consultation paper, which was released on July 16 this year.

The open house sessions on unified licence regime conducted by the regulator in Delhi and Hyderabad early this month have evoked mixed response from industry and consumer organisations. The basic (fixed) service licence holders (who are also allowed to offer WLL-M services) have welcomed the move and said that unified licensing is the way forward. However, the cellular operators, while supporting the move in-principle, said that the time was not right to get into the unified licence regime with problems such as shortage of spectrum etc prevailing in the telecom sector. A faction of cellular operators had also demanded that NLD and ILD services be included in the proposed unified licence.

The issue of spectrum, however, has also been taken care of by the GoM as it has agreed to provide 25 MHz of additional spectrum to mobile service providers. The move is expected to cost around Rs 900 crore to the finance ministry as it will provide the funds to the ministry of defence for upgradation of communication equipment so that additional spectrum can be released for telecom companies.