Interview

Expanding Tele-revolution in Rural India – Vision of TRAI : Nripendra Misra, Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)

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“The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is concerned with the poor growth of telecommunication in rural areas.  The Authority had undertaken extensive consultation for proliferation of telecom services in rural areas, which will enable India to play a leading role in the emerging Global Information Society”, informs Nripendra Misra, Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), in an exclusive interview with m-Connect.

What is the vision and mandate of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ?

TRAI’s mission is to create and nurture conditions for the growth of telecommunications including broadcasting and cable services in the country in a manner and at a pace which will enable India to play a leading role in the emerging global information society.

While working on the above mission TRAI’s focus is on achieving the following   objectives:

  • Transparency in decision-making by affording an oppor-tunity to all stakeholders;
  • Providing consumer with adequate choice, affordable tariffs and high quality of service;
  • Promoting level playing field and fair competition among service providers;
  • Access to world class quality telecommunications, broad-casting and cable services;
  • Promoting efficiency in operations in all the tiers of the industry;
  • Adoption of emerging technologies within the framework of a technology neutral policy;
  • Ensuring technical compatibility and effective inter-connection between service providers.

Necessary regulations, directives, orders or guidelines are issued, from time to time, by TRAI to achieve the above mission.

What are the top priority areas that you would be looking in as TRAI Chairperson?

The priority areas would be:

i) Improving the penetration of the telecom facilities including broadband access in the rural and far flung areas.

ii) Fulfilling subscribers demand for newer services and applications

iii) Improving the quality of service

iv) Convergence of telecom, IT and broadcasting networks

v) Consumer protection and privacy

We have been getting news about the increase in the tele-density in India, what is the current rural tele-density in India?

In the month of June 2007, we have achieved a Global record of adding 7.34 million mobile customers.  The total telephone connections in the country have crossed 225 million. While the over all tele-density is around 22 per 100 population, the rural tele-density is around 6 per 100 population.

What is the strategy TRAI is adopting to take the telecom revolution to the rural segment and bridge the digital divide?

The Authority is concerned with the poor growth of telecommunication in rural areas.  The Authority had undertaken extensive consultation for proliferation of telecom services in rural areas and had forwarded its recommendations to government in October 2005. The mobile services hitherto were not covered under USO (Universal Services Obligation) schemes and therefore, Authority had proposed that the erection of mobile tower in rural areas should be supported from USO fund.  Accordingly, Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act, 2003 was amended so as to extend support from USO fund for erection of mobile towers in rural and remote areas. In addition to this Authority has recommended Infrastructure sharing which is critical for growth in rural areas. The government’s role in funding telecom infrastructure will be crucial to the growth and spread of telephony in rural India.  About 8,000 telecom towers across the country at an estimated cost of INR 25,000 million has been planned.  It will provide about 50 million mobile connections in rural India.  Government is also planning for setting up additional 10,000 towers. A minimum of three operators have to share a tower, rural India will also have a choice of service providers.

Utilisation of the USOF (Universal Services Obligation Fund) for broadband rollout in rural India through a bidding process is already being considered.  It is planned to provide broadband connections within a 10 km radius of all block headquarters in the country.  It envisages a minimum speed of 512 kbps, where the network connects community centers, primary schools, banks, health centers, panchayats and police stations located close to all block headquarters.  With more tenders in the pipeline, rural India looks set to keep its date with fast telecom growth.

What is the broadband take-up in India?

The broadband policy was announced in the year 2004.  Broadband has been defined as “Always on” data connection with minimum download speed of 256 kbps.  Broadband coverage has been provided in more than 900 towns.  There are more than 2.5 million broadband connections as on date.  The target is to achieve  20 million broadband connections by the year 2010.

How does TRAI plan to extend the scope of USOF for wireless broadband roll out?

As mentioned earlier USOF was created for promoting the growth of telecom services including wireless broadband in rural and inaccessible areas.

The government had sought TRAI’s recommendations on issues relating to USO.  The Authority had recommended that initially Universal Service Levy (USL) be fixed at 5 per cent of the adjusted gross revenue of all telecom service providers. The Authority also recommended that the USO support policy be implemented from April 2002:  The Universal Service Support Policy came into effect from 21st April, 2002. Subsequently, the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act, 2003 giving statutory status to the USOF was passed by Parliament in December 2003.  The fund is to be utilised exclusively for meeting the USO.

The resources for implementation of USO are raised through a Universal Service Levy which has presently been fixed at 5% of the Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) of all telecom service providers except the pure value added service providers like Internet, voice mail, e-mail service providers etc.  At present an amount of about INR 99 billion is available in USOF.

Presently the USO policy supports the following streams:Stream– I : Provision of public telecom and information services; Stream – II: Provision of household telephones in rural and   remote areas as may be determined by the central government from time to time; Stream – III: Creation of infrastructure for provision of mobile services in rural and remote areas;  Stream – IV: Provision of broadband connectivity to villages in a phased manner; Stream – V: Creation of general infrastructure in rural and remote areas for development of  telecommunication facilities; Stream – VI: Induction of new technological developments in  the telecom sector in rural and remote area.

Recommendation on growth of Telecom services in rural India: The recommendations provide  for a higher quantitative and qualitative growth in telecom services in the country,  particularly in rural areas. Since tele-density is interlinked with the level of development, the  large differential between rural and urban tele-density cannot be sustainable. The  Authority recommended that the present policy should shift from subsidy based on individual connections (DELs, VPTs, etc) to network infrastructure expansion approach and mobile  services should be brought under the ambit of USO fund.

What is the current status of policy for Internet Protocol
(IP) technology in India?

The policies are generally technology neutral. The present policy however facilitates growth  of IP technology. The focus is on implementing the Next Generation Network (NGN) which  predominantly uses IP Technology. The TRAI has set up an NGN expert Committee consisting  of representatives from all stake holders (department of telecommunications, service  providers, manufacturers, academicians etc) to recommend the strategy for implementation of NGN in India.

What are the key challenges TRAI faces in its functioning?
How are you trying to overcome them?

The Telecom sector is experiencing explosive growth in India. Also this is the sector where  there are very fast technology changes. The most important challenge being a regulator of telecom sector is to keep pace with the explosive growth and technological changes and  quality of service issues. TRAI achieves this through close and continuous interaction with the  technology providers, service providers, manufacturers and all other stake holders and  by following an open and transparent policy in its decision making.

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