The government unveiled a draft of its new telecom policy here Monday that focuses on free roaming, transparent allocation of airwaves, strategies to increase rural reach, higher broadband speeds and more funding options for operators.
The draft policy, which was uploaded on the official website by Communications Minister Kapil Sibal, also promises a new law on spectrum allocation and usage -- ostensibly against the backdrop of a spate of alleged scandals over the award of this scarce resource earlier.
In this light, the minister said the new policy sought to de-link allocation of licence to service providers from the award of radio waves -- which means spectrum will have to be acquired through competitive bidding or by sharing it with existing firms.
Sibal also said after receiving inputs from stakeholders and people at large, the final policy will be unveiled by December. The current policy was drafted in 1999 when India's telecom subscriber base was barely two million that has grown to around 900 million now.
"Telecom today has emerged as a key driver of economic and social development and in an increasingly knowledge-intensive global scenario, India needs to play a leadership role," Sibal said, outlining the broad contours of the proposed new policy.
"This policy is designed to ensure that India plays this role effectively and transforms the socio-economic scenario through accelerated, equitable and inclusive economic growth by laying emphasis on providing affordable, quality services in rural and remote areas."
The thrust of the policy is on the following:
- Increase rural tele-density from 35 percent to 100 percent by 2020
- Ensure broadband on demand and aim at 600 million connections by 2020
- Grant one nation-wide licence and do away with roaming charges
- Aim at releasing 500 MhZ spectrum by 2020 to improve service quality
- Transparent allocation of spectrum through market-related process
- Enactment of a new spectrum act to address these issues
- Infrastructure status to telecom for better financial options
- A new company to help fund telecom projects
- Mobile number portability across the country, than just intra-circle
- Appropriate policy for firms wishing to exit telecom business
- New fund to promote domestic research, manufacturing
According to Sibal the policy aims to encourage convergence of telecom, television and broadband services in the country, overcoming all existing norms that segregate issues such as licensing, registration and regulatory mechanisms.
"The main thrust of the policy is on the multiplier effect and transformational impact of such services in the overall economy. It recognises the role of such services in furthering the national development agenda while enhancing equity and inclusiveness."
He also made it clear that while pursuing the new policy, the focus will be clearly on the development agenda and not on the money that can accrue to the exchequer. "Revenue generation will play a secondary role."