The past year saw some semblance of stability returning to the country’s beleaguered telecom sector, on the back of strong policy and regulatory measures. One of the key highlights was the release of the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), 2018, in September 2018. Endorsed as a major reform move, the policy is expected to catapult India into the digital era. The policy seeks to address key issues and presents several new avenues for growth. Well received by most industry stakeholders, the NDCP, 2018, underlines the telecom sector’s role in facilitating the country’s transition to a digital economy. It recommends massive investments of around $100 billion and puts the spotlight on fibre and satellite communications as the key means to achieving ubiquitous connectivity. Overall, the policy is pivoted on ensuring long-term sustainability of the sector and encouraging investments in futuristic technologies.
Further, as per the provisions of the policy, the Telecom Commission, the highest decision-making body in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), has been renamed the Digital Communications Commission. The move is in line with the government’s vision of a digitally empowered economy and society. The remit of the commission has also been extended to include data privacy, security and cybercrime, which are currently the IT ministry’s areas of responsibility. Besides the launch of the new telecom policy, several other policy measures were announced in 2018, including a policy roadmap for 5G, a framework for providing in-flight connectivity and norms for net neutrality. Significant activity was witnessed on the regulatory front as well. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released its recommendations and initiated consultations on several pertinent issues.
A look at the key policy and regulatory moves during the past year…
New telecom policy
The NDCP, 2018, aims to attract $100 billion in investments in the telecom sector, generate 4 million jobs and increase the sector’s contribution to GDP from 6 per cent in 2017 to 8 per cent by 2022. Another policy objective is to provide universal broadband access through the implementation of initiatives such as BharatNet, GramNet, NagarNet and Jan Wi-Fi. The policy talks about implementing a “fibre first initiative” to expand the reach of fibre to homes, enterprises and key development institutions. It lays emphasis on the fiberisation of at least 60 per cent of the tower sites against 20 per cent at present.
Policy roadmap for 5G
The high-level steering committee set up by the government to frame the country’s 5G roadmap submitted its much-awaited report in August 2018. The committee gave several suggestions on spectrum policy, regulatory policy education and awareness promotion, application and use case labs, India’s participation in formulating international standards, development of application layer standards and 5G trials. Recently, in June 2019, the Digital Communications Commission cleared the norms for 5G trials. The spectrum for the trials will be allotted for one year, and this will be extendable for a one-time fee of Rs 50 billion.
The government notified the Flight and Maritime Connectivity Rules, 2018, in December allowing both Indian and foreign airlines and shipping companies operating in the country to provide in-flight and maritime voice and data services in partnership with a licensed Indian telecom operator. As per the rules, in-flight and maritime connectivity (IFMC) can be provided using telecom networks on the ground as well as through satellites. The IFMC licences will be granted against an annual fee of Re 1 for a period of 10 years and the licensee will have to pay the licence fees and spectrum charges based on the revenue earned through service delivery.
- The government clarified that tower infrastructure providers will be considered as licensees under the right-of-way rules.
- The cabinet approved the new National Electronics Policy (NEP), 2019, which aims to create an electronic manufacturing ecosystem worth $400 million and generate 10 million jobs by 2025. The NEP, 2019, also proposes to increase mobile manufacturing in the country to 1 billion units worth $190 billion, of which 600 million units worth $110 billion will be exported.
- DoT has asked TRAI to frame recommendations on fixed line number portability. This step has been taken as part of the NDCP, 2018, which aims to implement a one nation, one number framework.
Despite a correction in industry structure, the sector continues to face a financial crisis. It has its hopes pinned on the NDCP, which is expected to ease the business environment and enable the sector to regain its financial strength. The policy is also expected to support new trends and technologies such as fibre-to-the-home, 5G and internet of things. Thus, the timely implementation of the policy will expedite all these developments in the sector.