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Empowering Each and Every Citizen of India

The draft of the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 is a bold attempt to ensure India’s transition to a digitally empowered economy and create a vibrant competitive telecom market to strengthen her long-term competitiveness.

Digital India is already unfolding. India’s digital profile and footprint is one of the fastest growing in the world. With over a billion mobile phones and digital identities and half a billion internet users, India’s mobile data consumption is already the highest in the world. Over 200 million Indians regularly use social media and in the last year alone, over 200 million Indians took to mobile banking and digital payments. At the current pace of digitization and digitalization, it is estimated that India’s digital economy has the potential to reach one trillion USD by 2025. The rapid and unprecedented proliferation of the mobile phone, the internet, social media platforms, digital payments, data consumption and generation across India indicate that the data economy and digital technologies and services are no longer the prerogative of the privileged few; but that they have indeed evolved into widespread instruments of access and empowerment for more than a billion Indians.

Currently, India has approximately 1.5 million km of OFC, and less than one-fourth of the towers are fiber-connected. In order to expand mobile and broadband connectivity across the country, it is necessary to explore and utilize the opportunities presented by next-generation-networks like 5G and other pioneering network access technologies including satellite communications. It would be critical to focus on fixed infrastructure development initiatives related to fiber deployment and Right of Way (RoW) clearances that will form the bedrock of next-generation technologies.

While India has embarked on one of the world’s largest rural optic fiber roll-outs in the world, aiming to connect 600,000 of its villages by broadband through its flagship initiative, BharatNet; the convergence of a cluster of revolutionary technologies including 5G, the cloud, IoT, and data analytics, along with a growing start-up community, promise to accelerate and deepen its digital engagement, opening up a new horizon of opportunities. As the world prepares for what is increasingly being called as the fourth industrial revolution, India, and indeed every single sector of its economy, need to be readied to embrace this wave.

A robust, competitive landscape, which ensures availability of new communications technologies, services, and applications, is central to the growth of GDP, productivity, and creation of new jobs in the economy. For consumers, competition leads to innovation, access to new technologies, improved quality, affordable prices, and wider choice. Indian consumers need and deserve the widest range of services at competitive rates. The policy seeks to promote and protect fair competition across the communications and digital economy sector.

Improvement in regulation and ongoing structural reforms are the pillars of a sound policy initiative. Regulatory reform is not a one-off effort, but a dynamic, long-term, and multi-disciplinary process. The policy recognizes the importance of continued improvement in the regulatory framework for attracting investments and ensuring fair competition, to serve the needs of Indian citizens. Given the sector’s capital-intensive nature, the policy aims to attract long-term, high-quality, and sustainable investments. To serve this objective, the policy further aims to pursue regulatory reforms to ensure that the regulatory structures and processes remain relevant, transparent, accountable, and forward-looking. Additionally, the policy aims to remove regulatory barriers and reduce the regulatory burden that hampers investments, innovation, and consumer interest. The policy also identifies steps to strengthen the sector’s institutional mechanism and legislative framework, to ensure that India’s economy and citizens can derive the full potential of its digital communications sector.

If India’s economic, social, and political interests in the emerging data economy are to be effectively secured, its digital sovereignty encompassing the data privacy, choice, and security of its citizens requires to be kept in prime consideration while participating in the global digital economy.

The objective of a national policy on digital communications is to prepare the country and its citizens for the future. Achieving these goals would require that the key stakeholders, namely the center, the states, local governments and agencies, telecom service providers, internet service providers, handset and equipment manufacturers, the academic community, the innovators, and start-ups come together to forge a coalition to deliver this national policy and its missions.

Strategic Objectives

By 2022, NDCP 2018 aims to accomplish provisioning of Broadband for All; create four million additional jobs in the digital communications sector; enhance the contribution of the digital communications sector to 8 percent of India’s GDP from ~6 percent in 2017; propel India to the top 50 nations in the ICT Development Index of ITU from 134 in 2017; enhance India’s contribution to Global Value Chains; and ensure digital sovereignty.

Mission

NDCP envisages three missions:

Connect India. Creating robust digital communications infrastructure to promote Broadband for All as a tool for socio-economic development, while ensuring service quality and environmental sustainability

Propel India. Enabling next-generation technologies and services through investments, innovation, and IPR generation; to harness the power of emerging digital technologies, including 5G, AI, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, and Big Data; to enable provision of future ready products and services; and to catalyze the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) by promoting investments, innovation, and IPR

Secure India. Ensuring sovereignty, safety, and security of digital communications; to secure the interests of citizens and safeguard 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

Connect India

Goals

These include providing universal broadband coverage at 50 Mbps to every citizen; providing 1 Gbps connectivity to all gram panchayats of India by 2020 and 10 Gbps by 2022; enabling 100 Mbps broadband on demand to all key development institutions; enabling fixed line broadband access to 50 percent of households; achieving unique mobile subscriber density of 55 by 2020 and 65 by 2022; enabling deployment of public wi-fi hotspots, to reach five million by 2020 and 10 million by 2022; and ensuring connectivity to all uncovered areas.

Strategies

Establishing a National Broadband Mission, Rashtriya Broadband Abhiyan to Secure Universal Broadband Access

To realize this mission, broadband initiatives such as BharatNet, which would provide 1 Gbps to gram panchayats upgradeable to 10 Gbps; GramNet, which would connect all key rural development institutions with 10 Mbps upgradeable to 100 Mbps; NagarNet, which would establish one million public wi-fi hotspots in urban areas; and Jan wi-fi which would establish two million wi-fi hotspots in rural areas would be implemented. These would be funded through USOF and public private partnerships.

Implementing a Fiber First Initiative to take fiber to the home, to enterprises, and to key development institutions in tier I, II, and III towns and to rural clusters. This would be accomplished by according telecom optic fiber cables the status of public utility; promoting collaboration models involving state, local bodies, and private sector as necessary for provision of shared duct infrastructure in municipalities, rural areas, and national highways; facilitating fiber-to-the-tower program to enable fiberization of at least 60 percent base stations thereby accelerating migration to 4G/5G; leveraging existing assets of the broadcasting and power sector to improve connectivity, affordability, and sustainability; incentivizing and promoting fiber connectivity for all new developmental construction; and by making requirement for telecom installations and the associated cabling and in-building solutions mandatory in all commercial, residential, and office spaces by amending National Building Code of India, through Bureau of Indian Standards.

Establishing a National Digital Grid by creating National Fiber Authority; establishing Common Service Ducts and utility corridors in all new city and highway road projects, and related elements; creating a collaborative institutional mechanism between center, states, and local bodies for Common RoW, standardization of costs and timelines; removal of barriers to approvals; and facilitating development of open access next-generation networks.

Facilitating the establishment of Mobile Tower Infrastructure by extending incentives and exemptions for the construction of telecom towers; according accelerated RoW permissions for telecom towers in government premises; and promoting deployment of solar and green energy for telecom towers.

Improving international connectivity and reducing the cost of international bandwidth by facilitating setting up of International Cable Landing Stations by rationalizing access charges and removing regulatory hurdles. This would require the sharing of active infrastructure to be encouraged by enhancing the scope of infrastructure providers and promoting deployment of common sharable, passive, as well as active, infrastructure.

Enabling Infrastructure Convergence of IT, telecom, and broadcasting sectors by amending the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885; establishing a unified policy framework and spectrum management regime for broadcast and broadband technologies; restructuring of legal, licensing, and regulatory frameworks for reaping the benefits of convergence; creating a Broadband Readiness Index for States/ UTs to attract investments and address RoW challenges; encouraging investment in broadband infrastructure through fiscal incentives, including accelerated depreciation and tax incentives; and incentivizing fixed line broadband; by encouraging innovative approaches to infrastructure creation and access including through resale and virtual
network operators (VNO), and promoting broadband connectivity through innovative and alternative technologies.

Recognizing Spectrum as a Key Natural Resource for Public Benefit to Achieve India’s Socio-economic Goals, Optimize Availability and Utilization

By making adequate spectrum available to be equipped for the new broadband era; transparent and fair mode of spectrum allocation by developing a fair, flexible, simple, and transparent method for spectrum assignments and allocations; efficient spectrum utilization and management; and promoting Next-Generation Access Technologies in India.

Strengthening Satellite Communication Technologies in India

By reviewing the regulatory regime for satellite communication technologies; revising licensing and regulatory conditions that limit the use of satellite communications, such as speed barriers, band allocation; optimizing satellite communications technologies in India; and developing an ecosystem for satellite communications in India.

Ensuring Inclusion of Uncovered Areas and Digitally Deprived Segments of Society

By channelizing the Universal Service Obligation Fund; and reviewing the scope and modalities of USOF.

Ensuring Customer Satisfaction, Quality of Service, and Effective Grievance Redressal

By establishing effective institutional mechanisms to protect consumers’ interests; focusing on public health and safety standards to promote the well-being of citizens; and incentivizing the use of renewable energy technologies in the communications sector.

Propel India

Goals

These are to attract investments of USD 100 billion in the digital communications sector; increase India’s contribution to Global Value Chains; creation of innovation led start-ups in the digital communications sector; creation of globally recognized IPRs in India; development of standard essential patents (SEPs) in the field of digital communication technologies; train and re-skill one million manpower for building new age skills; expand the IoT ecosystem to five billion connected devices; and accelerate the transition to Industry 4.0.

Strategies

The recent past has witnessed an unprecedented transformation in the digital communications infrastructure and services sector with the emergence of new technologies, services, business models, and players. There is hence an imperative need to review the existing licensing, regulatory, and resource allocation frameworks to incentivize investments and innovation to optimize new technology deployments and harness their benefits.

Catalyzing Investments for the Digital Communications Sector

By according telecom infrastructure the status of critical and essential infrastructure; reforming the licensing and regulatory regime to catalyze investments and innovation, and promote ease of doing business and simplifying and facilitating compliance obligations.

Ensuring a Holistic and Harmonized Approach for Harnessing Emerging Technologies

By synergizing deployment and adoption of new and emerging technologies; promoting innovation in the creation of communication services and network infrastructure by developing a policy framework for Over-the-Top services; ensuring the transition to IPv6 for all existing communications systems, equipment, networks, and devices; enabling hi-speed internet, IoT, and M2M by rollout of 5G technologies; ensuring adequate numbering resources; establishing India as a global hub for cloud computing, content hosting and delivery, and data communication systems and services; leveraging artificial intelligence and big data in a synchronized and effective manner to enhance the overall quality of service, spectrum management, network security and reliability; and recognizing digital communications as the core of Smart Cities.

Research and Development

Promoting research and development (R&D) in digital communication technologies; creating a fund for R&D in new technologies for start-ups and entrepreneurs to enable innovation in cutting-edge communications, 5G, software, content, security, and related technologies and applications; and commercialization of products and services through grants, scholarships, venture capital, etc.; establishing centers of excellence including in spectrum management, telecom security, and
next-generation access technologies; fostering an intellectual property rights regime that promotes innovation; and simplifying the process of obtaining experimental licenses and establishing regulatory sandboxes.

Promoting Start-Ups

By supporting start-ups with various fiscal and non-fiscal benefits; reducing the entry barriers for start-ups by reducing the initial cost and compliance burden, especially for new and innovative segments and services; and prescribing a simple and enabling regulatory framework for application service providers in order to promote innovation in application services for digital communications.

Local Manufacturing and Value Addition

By maximizing India’s contribution to global value chains, by focusing on domestic production, increasing exports and reducing the import burden; and ensuring strict compliance to preferential market access requirements.

Capacity Building

By building human resource capital to facilitate employment opportunities in the digital communications sector.

Strengthening of PSUs

Focus on building technical expertise and knowledge management for Public Sector Units.

Accelerating Industry 4.0

To create a roadmap for transition to Industry 4.0 by 2020 by closely working with sector-specific industry councils; establish a multi-stakeholder led collaborative mechanism for coordinating transition to Industry 4.0; and developing market for IoT/ M2M connectivity services in sectors including agriculture, Smart Cities, intelligent transport networks, multimodal logistics, smart electricity meter, consumer durables etc., and incorporating international best practices.

Secure India

Goals

Establish a comprehensive data protection regime for digital communications that safeguards the privacy, autonomy, and choice of individuals and facilitates India’s effective participation in the global digital economy; ensure that net neutrality principles are upheld and aligned with service requirements, bandwidth availability, and network capabilities including next-generation access technologies; develop and deploy robust digital communication network security frameworks; build capacity for security testing and establish appropriate security standards; address security issues relating to encryption and security clearances; and enforce accountability through appropriate institutional mechanisms to assure citizens of safe and secure digital communications infrastructure and services.

Strategies

Establish a strong, flexible, and robust Data Protection Regime; provide autonomy and choice for every citizen and enterprise; assure security of digital communications; and develop a comprehensive plan for network preparedness, disaster response relief, restoration and reconstruction.

The draft of the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 has been uploaded for public comments. Comments are awaited from the stakeholders and public. The deadline for submission of comments is June 1, 2018.

Communications Today invited some senior experts to comment on the draft. Read on for their views.

 The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) released its much-awaited draft National Telecom Policy 2018 (NTP-18) on May 2, 2018, for public comments. The policy is re-named as National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) 2018, keeping with the digital technology trends. We believe the objective of the policy is to help strengthen India’s market competitiveness by harnessing the new and emerging digital technologies and platforms.

It is promising to see the policy focus on review of the regulatory framework, for a dynamic, future-proof, and transparent regime that aims to reduce regulatory barriers and burdens to promote and protect level playing field and competition, leading to innovation and investment. In particular, the focus on reducing regulatory fees and the concept of pass-through revenues in line with principles of input line credit, and reduction in the cost of international bandwidth by rationalizing access charges is a welcome move.

One of the key focuses of the policy is to enable next-generation technologies and services via investment, innovation thereby accelerating India’s transition to industry 4.0. However, we note that emerging technologies such as software defined networks (SDNs) and network function virtualization (NFV), software defined wide area network (SD-WAN), Unified Communications – which is essential for reaping the full benefits of convergence – do not find a mention in draft telecom policy. These network technologies underpin all IT services have a transformational impact on society and therefore should be mentioned as key to achieving the missions as mentioned in the policy, that is, Connect India, Propel India, and Secure India.  For the creation of a robust digital ecosystem, suitable policy and regulatory interventions are expected from the government to foster the development and growth of these technologies. The revised policy should reflect the dynamics of the evolving technology landscape in a manner, which increases customer choice, affordability, competition, and enhances the digital eco-system.”

Priya Mahajan
Head of Asia-Pacific Public Policy & Regulatory Counsel,
Verizon Enterprise Solutions

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