New telecom policy makes right noises; timely, efficient rollout to be key

The Union Cabinet’s approval to the new telecom policy, now known as the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP 2018), makes all the right noises about making India a truly connected country. The policy has set 2022 as the target date for achieving the goal of broadband for all. This, according to the new document, would come with the creation of 4 million additional jobs in digital communications, attracting an investment of $100 billion and raising the contribution of the sector to 8 per cent of India’s GDP (from 6 per cent in the previous year). The policy also aspires to push India into the top 50 nations’ club in the Information and Communication Technologies Development Index.

But, all this and more can be possible only if the ambitious policy is executed in a timely and efficient manner without red tape coming in the way. Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha has said NDCP 2018, which will be replacing the 2012 policy, will be implemented within a year of being tabled in Parliament. However, with only a few months left for the next Lok Sabha elections, there’s a chance of reforms getting side-tracked.

Going by the stated goals, the government is committed to implement the policy to keep pace with the global transformation in the sector, particularly in emerging technologies such as 5G, IoT (internet of things) and M2M (machine to machine) communications. Since the country is looking at a 5G network roll-out by 2020, the latest policy framework is expected to give the new spectrum regime robust support. It’s significant that the new policy is already backed by the net neutrality provisions ratified by the Department of Telecom recently. While the commitment to net neutrality was reiterated in the NDCP policy draft, the Telecom Commission was yet to take a decision on the regulator’s recommendation on the subject. In the meantime, the commission has gone along with the regulator’s recommendation on the subject.

As such, the internet will remain an open platform. This will allow smaller businesses and individuals to create and disseminate content without fear that their offers will be swamped by larger competitors. In addition, the NDCP 2018 has outlined a road map for de-stressing businesses in the telecom sector, which has been in the midst of financial turmoil due to high spectrum charges and a price war among telcos. It has suggested rationalisation of taxes and levies while pointing out that spectrum usage charges would only reflect administrative costs. This gives hope to the industry that the DoT may now transform from being just a revenue generator to one that can facilitate businesses and provide socio-economic impetus to the economy.

It is to be seen if the 2018 policy will make telecom a promising sector all over again or whether it will just remain a visionary piece of paper. To make it work, the government needs to brainstorm with the industry in understanding the challenges on the ground while bringing about policy changes, conducting spectrum auctions, and being an enabler for businesses. While the long-term goals are important for the telecom sector, which is critical to India’s infrastructure ecosystem, there’s no doubt that the urgent need right now is to restore the financial health of the sector.


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