BIF Welcomes the Draft National Digital Communication Policy Aimed at Making India a Prospering Digital Economy

Broadband India Forum (BIF), an independent policy forum & think tank that works for rapid development of policies to promote affordable and high speed ubiquitous broadband throughout the country has welcomed the recently announced Draft National Digital Communication Policy (NDPC) that focuses on enabling India to prosper as part of a globally integrated Digital economy.

Shri. TV Ramachandran, President, Broadband India Forum said, “We laud the bold and radical recommendations of the draft NDCP as in a first, the policy moves away from ‘telecom’ and takes the new role of ‘digital’ to capture the realities of fast growing and ever changing ‘technology’ in the new converged world.”

The policy includes atleast a dozen of positive and path-breaking recommendations for the telecom sector:

  • Addressing broadband infrastructure in the very first objective – ‘Connect India’. The implementation and the efficiency of broadband services would prove to be key enabler of Digital India, all these services need to be implemented and produced in a manner so that they work efficiently.
  • Digital era cannot happen without India marching towards Fibre First that constitutes setting out a system of optical fibre links throughout the nation for fast internet. Currently, India has approximately 1.5 million kms of OFC, and less than one-fourth of the towers are fibre-connected. It would be critical to focus on fibre deployment and Right of Way clearances for underground and over-ground digital/telecom infrastructure that will form the bedrock of next generation technologies.
  • For the first time, there is reference of E&V bands. There are over 3.3 lakh villages with less than 1000 population. They cover a population of 15 crores. Fibre may not reach all these places. There is a need to deploy reliable high-speed BB services in a quickest possible time to distribute digital fruits. Alternate and cost-effective technologies are the only solution to build inclusive digital India. E and V band technologies will play a key role and are being rolled out world over to build high capacity BB networks in both urban and rural areas.
  • It is heartening to see that the Government is moving away from the conventional goal of revenue maximization from auctions to a regime of optimal reserve price and valuation of spectrum. For the first time in India’s history, policy is ‘recognizing spectrum as a key natural resource for public benefit to achieve India’s socio-economic goals’.
  • Reference to ‘Optimal Pricing of Spectrum’ is a big positive. This is the first time that Government has conveyed that Auctions would be based on Optimal Design. This effectively means optimal reserve price and valuation of spectrum.
  • The next big ticket item is reference to review all levies and duties. A phrase used in earlier policies but this time the draft states that it will apply the “concept of pass through revenues with input line credit”. This will reduce the effective license fee burden on the sector by avoiding double taxation.
  • The policy recommends that the spectrum usage charge (SUC) and license fee should only reflect the cost of administration and regulation. These spectrum-related vital actions together with the rationalized license fees and levies with input line credit would reduce the financial burden on the sector.
  • The policy for the first time refers to Satcom in great detail, which will go a long way in enhancing connectivity especially in rural and remote areas. Never in the earlier policies was the potential of Satcom realized and detailed policy measures outlined. In this current draft, for the first time ever, the unexploited sector has received elaborate and fair treatment.
  • Liberalization of Public Wi-Fi Policy is an astoundingly new approach – one that is direly needed for India.
  • To improve quality of service, customer satisfaction and grievance redressal, the policy sets out to create telecom Ombudsman.
  • Enhancement of scope of IP1s by bringing them under DoT’s Right of Way (RoW) Rules of 2016 framed out of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
  • Review of scope of USOF as well as the targeted channelizing of the Fund for achieving inclusion is a welcome step.

While BIF has lauded the points enshrined in the policy, it has also highlighted few areas that require fine-tuning to make them superlative and fast-track India on its goal of going ‘Digital.’ The suggestions are as follows:

  • As stated earlier, proliferation of Broadband is at the heart of the Policy. The policy addresses broadband infrastructure as its very first objective – ‘Connect India’. Creation of infrastructure for broadband should be accorded the highest priority as it is the lifeline on which services will run. The broadband infrastructure should include the following components: optical fibre, E&V band, Wi-Fi hotspots, towers and Satcom.
  • While welcoming reference to E & V bands in the Draft Policy under Promoting Next Generation Access Technologies, in view of the huge data growth and the need for quantum growth of Broadband & Digital Communications infrastructure, BIF urges upon the Government to recognize the need for opening up unrestricted, delicensed access to the entire V band from 57-71Ghz and not up to 64Ghz only.
  • For local manufacturing and value addition, the policy needs to consider customer equipment and network equipment as two separate segments. We suggest that the clause needs to be modified to attract Global OEMs and Generic Component players to setup manufacturing base in India by providing incentives based on their exports, throughput and sourcing from India.
  • There is a need to revise the Preferential Market Access (PMA) requirements to incentivize global manufacturers, who manufacture in India not just for the local market but for the entire world/region or the export market or in other words –to set up global manufacturing hubs so as to increase their exports, throughput and sourcing from India. Also, the PMA approach needs to be different for Network Infrastructure and different for Terminals & Devices.

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