A National Telecom Policy is currently under formulation and will be made public “soon” for stakeholder consultation, Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha has said. The upcoming policy will look at areas like technology innovation and security as well as plug “loopholes”, the minister promised but did not elaborate on the specifics. “We are framing National Telecom policy…we have done a lot of work on this. Once it is formulated, we will put in on the website for comments of general public, academia, industry and then we will go to Parliament,” the minister told PTI in an interview. He said that at a broad level, the policy will be driven by technology innovations, among other aspects. “There are many things which change with time…we will take all that into consideration,” he said, adding it will also address “loopholes”.
He was responding to a question on gaps that the new policy will seek to address over the National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2012. Asked about the timeframe for finalising the new policy, Sinha said he expected it “soon”. “I am hopeful that it will come soon. First, we will initiate a consultation…maybe the implementation will take some time but we will soon put in on the website so we can seek people’s opinion,” he pointed out. Sinha vowed that reforms, especially consumer-centric ones, will continue in the telecom sector and hinted that some announcements were in the offing.
“Reforms will continue…Yes, it will move, and move swiftly…you will soon see some things…In the coming days, there will be some news regarding reforms, and it will be consumer-centric,” he said but declined to divulge details. The Telecom Ministry has issued technology neutral telecom licences under the NTP 2012 which was delinked from spectrum. Other reforms that have been undertaken include finalisation of spectrum trading and sharing rules, full mobile number portability, increasing spectrum supply for the industry, Right of Way norms and eKYC.
However, it is yet to meet certain targets like 2 megabits per second broadband speed for consumers and formation of the National Mobile Property Registry. Also, the new policy formulation comes at a time when the sector is confronting financial difficulties. Revenue and profitability of both large and small operators have come under severe pressure after the entry of aggressive newcomer Reliance Jio and the subsequent advent of free data and voice offerings. The telecom industry’s debt has touched Rs 4.6 lakh crore, and a latest report by ICRA has warned that industry revenue will plunge by another 6 per cent in the current financial year due to competition and pricing pressure.
Last month, an inter-ministerial group held extensive dialogue with all telecom players as well as large banks to discuss the industry’s financial stress and look for remedial measures. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular as well as other telcos are making an aggressive pitch for reduction in levies (like licence fee, spectrum usage charge) and are also seeking an extension in the deferred payment liability for radiowaves.
Jio, on the other hand, has ascribed the financial stress in the telecom sector to existing operators like Airtel and Idea running businesses on debt and investing heavily in unrelated sectors. Jio has also alleged that the incumbent operators had been reluctant in infusing equity and hence the financial stress is their own creation — a charge the incumbent operators have outrightly rejected.