This is part one of a two-part report covering TRAI’s recommendations for a new national telecom policy.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has given its recommendations for the new telecom policy to the department of telecommunications, suggesting wide-ranging policies for expanding the user base and the ease of doing business.

Among its many objectives are leapfrogging India into the top-50 nations in the ICT Development Index (IDI) and creating two million jobs in ICT by 2022.

Increasing user base

One of the largest objectives in TRAI’s recommendation is increasing the reach of wireless broadband service to 90% population by 2022. This comes at a time when nearly 49.5% of India’s population is still unconnected, as per a September 2017 by Broadband Commission, jointly established by ITU and UNESCO.

The TRAI recommends:

  • Recognition of communications as connectivity infrastructure as essential as railways, roadways etc., to enable low-cost financing.
  • Redesigning Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), meant to improve connectivity in rural areas, and improving institutional capacity to improve its execution.
  • Promotion of infrastructure sharing among service providers.
  • Sub-marine cable connectivity to Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Islands.
  • Using satellites for telephony and broadband services in remote areas by bringing in more satellite transponders and spectrum bands and rationalizing their charges.
  • Data Centres to rural locations
  • Regular data collection on ‘unique mobile subscriber density’, and ‘mobile network coverage’

“In order to have a realistic assessment of access and affordability of telecommunication services, we need to shift focus from tele-density to ‘Unique Mobile Subscriber Density’, wherein each subscriber will be counted once, irrespective of multiple connections a subscriber has subscribed,” TRAI said.

Ease of doing business

The TRAI has set the aim to leapfrog India into the top-50 nations in the ICT Development Index (IDI) by 2022 and become net positive in international trade of communication systems and services.

It has also focused on simplifying licensing and regulatory frameworks, rationalising taxes, levies and related compliances by 2019. For this, it suggests establishing an online centralised platform for the provision of Right of Way (RoW) permissions for single window clearance by 2019. Further, an online platform for all Government to Business (G2B) activities including spectrum and license related information, applications, clearances, compliances, and payments. TRAI hopes to attract investment equivalent to $100 billion in the communication sector.

It recommends:

  • Reviewing license fee, USOF levy, Spectrum Usage Charges (SUC), definition of Gross Revenue (GR), keeping in mind the importance of communication infrastructure.
  • Restructuring of legal, licensing and regulatory frameworks.
  • Rationalising taxes and levies on ICT equipment, infrastructure, and services.
  • Separation of licenses/permissions for infrastructure, network, services, and applications providers.
  • Incentivising government departments for freeing underutilised/ substitutable spectrum.
  • Allowing delivery of broadcast services using converged wireline and wireless networks.
  • Simplifying processes, rationalising requirements, and easing grant of licenses/ permissions for spectrum, wireless apparatus, equipment imports, and clearance.
  • Integrated regulation of ICT and broadcasting and role of TRAI as converged regulator for both sector.

“We have to unleash the power of entrepreneurship for investment, innovation, inclusive development. All the strategies suggested under this head are to improve ease of doing business and rationalise the applicable licensing and regulatory frameworks,” TRAI said.

Industry welcomes move

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), has also responded to these recommendations saying, “We are happy that TRAI has considered most of the suggestions made by COAI and has come out with the objectives along with specific timelines to achieve the same.”

COAI has added that huge investments would be required by telcos to achieve new targets, for which urgent support of the government is necessary to improve the already deteriorating financial health of the sector.

“The industry has already invested over Rs 9 lakh crores, the sector is currently reeling under a debt of over Rs 4.5 lakh crores and a substantive investment is required of over Rs 2-3 lakh crores over the next couple of years.  The industry has therefore called for creating a stable, predictable, innovation & investment, friendly regulatory and policy environment,” Rajan Mathews, director-general of COAI, said in a statement.