The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is on the threshold of revamp and complete overhaul of the regulatory framework that governs the Indian telecom sector. On the anvil is a new umbrella legislation to encompass the several laws governing the sector, and a spectrum management policy that will ensure efficient and optimal usage of the scarce resource. These proposals were part of a DoT presentation made to the cabinet secretary on Tuesday, in the run-up to the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government taking over in the coming weeks.
DoT proposes to shift the government’s focus to communications as a lifeline service on priority basis such as national security, public safety, morality, privacy and disaster management. As part of the new proposals, DoT has suggested a new Communications Bill that will replace the Indian Telegraph Act 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933, the Trai Act 1997, and partially the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, and the Information Technology Act 2000.
As part of proposed amendments to the licensing framework, the department has suggested a separation of carriage and content regulation, and network and services licensing. If implemented, these could ease entry and exit barriers, a key demand of many companies trying to enter the Indian market, and some money-losing firms unable to exit.
Another key demand of the telecom sector that DoT has promised to look into, according to the presentation, is the rationalization of taxes and fees paid to the government. This is part of the department’s proposal to improve the financial health of the sector, struggling with a cumulative debt of around Rs.2 trillion.
DoT has also proposed a spectrum management policy, akin to an earlier proposal that was dropped by the government last year, that will deal with issues such as spectrum trading and sharing, and audits.
On the network side, DoT has proposed accelerating ongoing work on the Rs.20,000 crore national optical fibre network (NOFN) that will connect all panchayats across the country. NOFN will enable the provision of community Wi-Fi and a government network that will ride on this network will ensure delivery of government and public services.
Analysts and experts have welcomed the new proposals.