The government has renamed the Telecom Commission the apex decision making body at the telecom department as the Digital Communications Commission and has also notified the new telecom policy. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) issued a notification, which said that the government had re-designated the telecom commission with a vision to support “India’s transition to a digitally empowered economy and society”. The notification added, “To ensure effective implementation and monitoring of the National Digital Communications Policy-2018, the government had decided to re-designate the telecom commission…as the Digital Communications Commission”.
The National Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) – 2018 is distinct from previous Telecom Policies on two counts. Firstly, it stands out in its name, which is modern, catchy and exotic. Secondly, it stands out in its ambitious ambition of fixing targets/goals.
As reported, the remits of the telecom regulator and the Telecom Commission are in the process of being widened that may see them overseeing issues such as data privacy, security and cyber crime, which are currently being looked into by the IT ministry. These changes which are likely to come through an amendment in laws, underline the fact that consumers access most of their data via mobile phones, and hence the telecom department will need to get involved.
While notifying the policy called the National Digital Communications Policy 2018, the government, “It is hoped that this policy will facilitate the unleashing of the creative energies of citizens, enterprises and institutions in India; and play a seminal role in fulfilling the aspirations of all Indians for a better quality of life”. The Union Cabinet on September 26 had approved the new policy which aims to create four million jobs, draw around $100 billion of investments into the telecom industry by 2022, boost the sector’s contribution to 8% of GDP from 6% in 2017 besides backing the principles of net neutrality.
The key objectives of NDCP-2018 are:
1) Broadband for all;
2) Creating four million additional jobs in the Digital Communications sector;
3) Enhancing the contribution of the Digital Communications sector to 8% of India’s GDP from ~ 6% in 2017;
4) Propelling India to the Top 50 Nations in the ICT Development Index of ITU25 (India is ranked at 134 in the year 2017);
5) Enhancing India’s contribution to Global Value Chains; and
6) Ensuring Digital Sovereignty.
NDPC-2018 aims to attract USD 100 billion in the telecommunication sector. In the last three years, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the telecom sector has jumped nearly five times from USD 1.3 billion in 2015-16 to USD 6.2 billion in 2017-18. Recently, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) cleared 100% FDI in Idea Cellular, paving the way for its merger with Vodafone India.
In a press release issued on September 25, 2018, the Government of India has significantly stated that it is keen on facilitating roll out of 5G services by 2020 in India at par with the world which will play key role in harnessing new emerging technologies like machineto- machine communications, internet of things, artificial intelligence, etc. India has announced plans to launch 5G service by 2020 which provides big investment opportunity in the country.
- Provide universal broadband connectivity at 50 Mbps to every citizen;
- Provide 1 Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats by 2020 and 10 Gbps by 2022;
- Ensure connectivity to all uncovered areas;
- Attract investments of USD 100 billion in the Digital Communications Sector;
- Train one million manpower for building New Age Skills;
- Expand Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem to 5 billion connected devices;
- Establish a comprehensive data protection regime for digital communications that safeguards the privacy, autonomy and choice of individuals;
- Facilitate India’s effective participation in the global digital economy;
- Enforce accountability through appropriate institutional mechanisms to assure citizens of safe and secure digital communications infrastructure and services.
NDCP-2018 looks promising and a game changer for telecom sector in India. The target to train one million people in new-age skills and sectors such as 5G LTE and artificial intelligence is commendable. The intent to increase digitalization in rural areas in India will further boost the telecom sector. NDCP-2018 will create colossal infrastructure as the same is vital for the existing bleeding telecom sector in India. The government is dedicated to achieve its Digital India plan and we hope that the implementation of NDCP- 2018 will bring more smiles to the foreign investors as well as domestic players in the telecom sector.
– Revenue maximization is not the priority: Investors, experts and players in this sector have, for many long years, bemoaned the fact that despite some of the well-intentioned policies of the past, successive governments faltered in going for revenue maximization to bridge the fiscal deficit, at the cost of the real telecom needs of the economy and the common man. This possibly happened due to certain ambiguities in those policies as articulated. This has been addressed in the finalised NDCP right upfront in the second paragraph itself of the Preamble, where we see added in the final—after explaining the need for wide adoption of new technologies and affordability for widely varying demographic profiles—the following new, unambiguous statement: “Accordingly, this policy aims for Universal Coverage rather than revenue maximisation.”
– Importance for policy consistency: Another criticism from players, in the past, has been the incidence of frequent policy flip-flops, which make well-laid business plans go awry. In the finalisation of the policy, this has been recognised and addressed by clearly adding the word “consistent” in the opening statement of Para 4 of the Preamble, which reads: “The objective of this document is to lay out a consistent policy and principles framework … to serve the needs of our aspiring nation.”
– Importance of digital communications infrastructure: Again, in the Preamble itself, in Para 5, it has been specifically added that “it would be critical to focus on Digital Communications Infrastructure development initiatives related to fibre deployment and Right of Way clearances, for both overground and underground infrastructure that will form the bedrock of next generation technologies.”
– Change of name for policy and the commission: It is significant that the big change of policy and implementation perspective is brought out with abundant clarity by the following new introduction in the Preamble: “Keeping in view the changes and advancements in the digital communications ecosystem, the National Telecom Policy will hereinafter be referred to as ‘National Digital Communications Policy’. To ensure effective implementation and monitoring of the Policy, it is proposed to re-designate the Telecom Commission as the Digital Communications Commission to ensure that the high aspirations are achieved within stipulated time.”
Naysayers might dismiss this as a mere name change and what matters is the execution and the result. However, such skeptics should note that, in this case, both the fundamental policy orientation as well as the implementation are addressed. The DCC is to ensure effective implementation and monitoring of the policy and is also to ensure that the high aspirations are achieved within the stipulated time. No ambiguity whatsoever.
– “Allowing benefits of convergence in areas such as IP-PSTN switching”: This is a specific addition to the list of strategies. It could possibly be aimed at providing convergence benefits to call centres, BPOs and internet telephony.
– Incentivizing green energy: While the draft had already strategised the “promoting and deployment of solar and green energy,” the final goes further, and asks for “incentivising.” This is a critical requirement.
– Spectrum: Some extremely meaningful changes are noticed here. The word “auctioning” has been deleted in the context of spectrum assignment or allocation. Instead, we now have introduction of “ensure transparency in allocation” and optimise availability and utilization by “developing a transparent, normative and fair policy for spectrum assignments and allocation.” This seems to imply that auctions need not be followed for spectrum allocation and that any reasonable, fair and transparent method of allocation might be followed. This is a much-needed change from the current status and could mean the real deliverance of the sector from its biggest problem.
Again, the deployment of dynamic database systems is now indicated for allocation also, whereas in the draft such systems had been indicated only for interference management. Does this imply provision for dynamic sharing of spectrum through an allocation process?
– Universal service: Right from its inception, the utilisation of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) has only been for rural citizens who are not connected. The shortcoming in this approach is that there are also large sections of economically and socially weaker communities that are unconnected and equally deserve universal service. This aspect has been addressed in the final policy in the section dealing with the review of the scope and modalities of USOF.
Some of the key revisions here are the specific inclusion, for review, of the definition of AGR and also of the need to avoid double incidence of levies while reviewing the concept of pass through charges to align with the principles of input line credit.
Importantly, all are aware that India is woefully inadequate in respect of fixed line connectivity and this is becoming a big handicap as far as digital communications is concerned. This is sought to be addressed through inclusion of a new strategic initiative of “reviewing the rationalisation of licence fees on fixed line revenues to incentivize digital communications.” This, hopefully, should help propel the much-needed growth of fixed line communications in India.
Another great fine-tuning is the addition, in the sub-section dealing with cloud computing, of the following provision: “Facilitating Cloud Service Providers to establish captive fibre networks.” This has been a long-felt need of our data centres and BPO units to improve their efficiency and competitiveness. Until now, two data centres, owned by the same entity but located across the road, would have to go to an external provider to connect up tier-2 units with fibre, adding significantly to costs and time delays. This is now avoided.
The new policy is expected to give a thrust to the entire telecom sector and ensure the financially stressed industry is not merely treated as a revenue generator but one that can provide immense socio-economic impetus to the economy.
Under the new telecom policy, the government plans to optimally price spectrum, review levies such as license fees and spectrum usage charge as well as M&A rules to ease exits while also taking a fresh look at spectrum sharing, leasing and trading guidelines, as part of its approach that spectrum is a key natural resource which is to be used for public benefit.
Among the chief aims of the policy is data security of the country. “Safeguarding the digital sovereignty of India with a focus on ensuring individual autonomy and choice, data ownership, privacy and security; while recognizing data as a crucial economic resource,” was listed as one of the main missions of the policy.