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Rajan S Mathews
Director General
COAI

NDCP 2018 to Build the Road Toward a Digitally Empowered Nation

As technology evolves, the policy environment must also keep pace with it so that all citizens get secure access in an ever-changing environment. This is key to a sustained, rapid socio-economic growth of the country. Toward this goal, the government has been regularly bringing changes in telecom policies. Thus far we have seen four such policies – National Telecom Policy 1994 (NTP94), National Telecom Policy 1999 (NTP99), Broadband Policy 2004, and NTP2012. Each NTP document has left a lasting impression and can be considered the reason behind the phenomenal success of the telecom sector in the country over the last two decades. National Digital Communications Policy 2018 (NDCP 2018) is the latest development in this sphere.

Till date, the Government of India, has played a praiseworthy role and provided relentless support to ensure the widespread adoption of telecom in the country. The industry has played its part in expanding infrastructural capabilities in order to build vigorous connectivity and provide uninterrupted digital services to one and all. Up till now, an over Rs. 10.4 crore have been invested by Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) in building an indigenous world class Telecom Infrastructure. More than three lakh Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) were added in last one year taking the total number to 17.64 lakh providing seamless connectivity.

As the country readies itself to the next generation of communication technologies, an age where machines will interact amongst each other, reducing human intervention to the bare minimum, the implications will be vast and varied. Futuristic technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), machine to machine communications (M2M), Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, automation, robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality are intriguing all and sundry. Digital India is no more a far-flung dream. We have been taking concrete step towards realizing the dream.

The telecom sector, had largely been moribund for the last few years. Though technological advancements are happening every day and happening fast, the sector is in financial distress with debts amounting to Rs.  7.64 lakh crore, while the overall revenue has fallen to less than Rs. 2 lakh crore. Sector employment is at an all-time low with consolidations occurring everywhere, with a few operators filing for bankruptcy.

We are happy that NDCP2018 has considered and taken into account most of our recommendations submitted on behalf of the telecom industry. DoT has indeed been able to come out with a comprehensive framework on the NDCP 2018. Ministry of Communications has been successful in identifying long pending concerns that the sector had been reeling under financial distress including other challenges and have proposed effective corrective measures to address such ordeals. Some of the most significant ones include rationalization of multiple taxes and levies, such as license fees, spectrum usage charges, revenue sharing, universal service obligation fund, GST etc. India’s telecom service providers pay more than 30 percent of their revenues in the form of taxes and levies, while telcos in the rest of the world pay around 10 percent . This has also been rationalized.

The NDCP2018 also recognizes spectrum as a natural resource and therefore, will ensure its adequate availability, efficient usage and putting together a fair and transparent allocation method for service providers. Having taken cognizance of the high cost of spectrum, the policy has also suggested for adopting optimal pricing to ensure sustainable and affordable access to digital communication. The final policy will give a final shape to guide the evolution of telecom industry in the country.

By targeting a USD 100 billion worth of investments while addressing the issue of rationalization of taxes and levies, the policy focuses on the sector’s long-term sustainability and ability to invest in new technologies. India’s telcos pay around 30 percent of their revenues in taxes, and levies such as spectrum usage charges and license fees.

Communications services bring with them significant economic progress of citizens. The telecom sector currently contributes 6 percent to the GDP. The NDCP2018 has set a target of 8 percent. The year 2022 will be a watershed year if all the NDCP2018’s targets are achieved.

One notable aspect of the policy is the focus on the creation of a comprehensive data protection system for digital communications that ensures safety, privacy, autonomy and choice for citizens, while encouraging their participation in the global digital economy.

The NDCP2018 has therefore laid out a comprehensive, focused and coherent roadmap with clear strategies, aimed towards catapulting India on the path of global knowledge revolution. With proposed targets like universal broadband coverage of 50Mbps, 10Gbps at all Gram Panchayats, 10 million public wi-fi Hotspots and four million new jobs, India will no longer be an emerging country.

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