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    July 2016

A telecom renaissance on anvil?


 All eyes are set on the Indian telecom sector as the Government is getting ready to take some mega policy decisions in the coming months in regard to Information Technology and Communications which will have a lasting impact on this industry. 

Our Cover Story explores the burning issues of spectrum auction, call drops and Net Neutrality which have become a bone of contention among the stakeholders of the telecom sector. Through the platform of Bureaucracy Today, the newly appointed Minister of State for Communications, Manoj Sinha, and TRAI Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma seek to clear the air on developments on these issues which are keenly watched and awaited by industry, activists and consumers.  
In September, the Modi Government is expecting to garner about Rs 5.6 trillion revenue by spectrum auction. This amount is nearly five times more than the astounding Rs 1.09 trillion which was generated in the last spectrum auction. 
However, contrary to the expectations, the current market conditions and the Government’s decision to fix a high reserve price of Rs 1,140 crore per MHz for a band could play a spoilsport in the upcoming auction. Though the Government is upbeat about the spectrum auction, it is to be seen whether the telcos will go in for competitive bidding in the current environment where the sector is in distress. 
Even if the auction proves successful, it is to be seen whether the Government will make any effort to see that the telcos do not burn a hole in the pocket of the common man by increasing call tariffs to recover their investment. Otherwise, the entire Government exercise to address the spectrum crunch will dilute its fundamental purpose of creating a Digital India.
Another major issue that the Government intends to address in the coming months is that of call drops menace. 
Though the Supreme Court’s recent order of striking down the TRAI’s regulation seeking mandatory compensation from the telcos to subscribers for call drops was a setback for the regulator, the Telecom Authority is working towards making a comprehensive strategy to combat the call drops malaise.  In fact, the telecom regulator has written to the Department of Telecom seeking more powers by amending the TRAI Act. The amendment, if made, will give it more teeth, including penalty levying authority and a clear mechanism to ensure consumer protection in India.
It would be interesting to watch whether the Government finds a middle path to address the issue. The financial woes of players in any sector can be no excuse for poor service quality. Telecom users in India need protection from poor service quality. 
Net Neutrality is another big issue in the current times. On this sensitive issue, the TRAI is not taking any chances because of limited views.  It issued a pre-consultation paper and now it is meeting experts to frame questions for the consultation paper. The world is watching the TRAI’s action and direction on this matter. After Facebook pulled out the Free Basics platform in India in the wake of the TRAI’s ruling against differential pricing banning the platform, it has become a global issue. 
The Government needs to look at the issue in the context of India’s developments to formulate a Net Neutrality policy. The policy of Europe or any other country cannot be replicated in India. 
It will be interesting to see how the Modi Government gears up to address the challenges currently being faced by the telecom sector in India.


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