Batt(l)ing for the future of telecom

Despite the tremendous growth in Indian telecom as well as the wider digital revolution enabled by it, there is a lack of credible and informative books.

VoicenData Bureau
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Book Review

Despite the tremendous growth in Indian telecom as well as the wider digital revolution enabled by it, there is a lack of credible and informative books covering the long arc of history spanning more than a century and a half. This is more so when one looks at books authored by practitioners even as there are few excellent books by some academicians.


Building upon his rich and wide experience in the sector spanning over four decades, ‘Battles of Telecom’ is a bold attempt by A K Bhargava to fill this vacuum. An Indian Telecom Service (ITS) officer of the 1977 batch, he not only worked extensively in the field across different functions and geographies, but he assumed leadership roles in the public sector companies Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited and Bharat Broadband Network Limited and rose to become a member of the Telecom Commission. Post-retirement, he also served for three years as a member of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, TDSAT.

Battles galore

Like in any other domain of technological evolution that has an interface with policy and society, it is but natural to come across a litany of contestation in a sector like telecom. In that respect, the book does not disappoint. It covers a lot of ground, from perception to passivity, policy to power, competition to convergence, monopoly to manufacturing, licensing to litigation, and corruption to consumer protection.


Befitting the title, the book commences with the pivotal role of telegraphy before, during and after 1857; the year that saw the first major uprising against the British Raj. Yes, telegraph lines were already crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country, interconnecting major cities.

Interlaced with candid personal anecdotes, the book provides insight into policies and regulations as well as the moral dilemma of a public servant.

Chapters on the perception and legal battles are quite interesting. How telecom became to be seen as a necessity for all rather than as a luxury for few has important lessons for the policymakers. The Supreme Court’s judgment in 2012 cancelling 122 licenses in one go has been discussed in detail.


The diagnosis of the malaise within the public sector service providers and the prescriptions including some bitter medicines deserve due consideration.

Interlaced with occasional yet candid personal anecdotes, the book provides additional nuances to the often unintended consequences of certain policies and regulations as well as the moral dilemma of a public servant. On the other hand, there are numerous interesting quotations, that highlight the author’s literary interests.

Overall, the writing style is lucid and largely shorn of technical jargon. Numerous charts, tables and a detailed appendix would be immensely useful to the researchers. The author also tries his level best to allay the perception of widespread corruption even as he does not hold back in calling a spade a spade, even if it means naming a couple of ministers.


Missing from battles?

No book can be complete in all respects and an author must choose what to include and what to exclude. Whether as an act of omission or commission, a few aspects are conspicuous by their sheer absence or inadequate treatment.

These include, but are not limited to, the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development in 1998 (IT Task Force), the Group on Telecom and Information Technology in 1999 (GoT-IT) and the Group of Minister (GoM). Likewise, while the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 has been covered in great detail, its predecessors are absent.


The chapter on Internet hails the benign policy announced in November 1998, but misses on the January 1998 policy that had proposed to allow just a handful of services including Archies and Veronica! Add to that the battles for opening of Internet telephony and de-licensing of spectrum for Wi-Fi.

Even the coverage of standards and the role of the Telecom Tariff Order and the Interconnection Regulation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India are sketchy at best.

Structurally, the book does not have a table of contents and index. Some maps showing the evolution of the network at various points in time would have been extremely beneficial.


Battle for betterment

Underlining the critical role of telecom in enabling the wider digital revolution, the closing chapter offers a glimpse of the future battles, emerging from close encounters between technology, policy and society.

The telecom sector is becoming increasingly more complex with the advent of IPv6, 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and many more technological and market evolutions.


The book covers a lot of ground, from passivity to policy, competition, monopoly, manufacturing, licensing, litigation, and corruption.

Even if the victory is ephemeral in such an ongoing battle, the book closes with a sobering observation: “In the telecom world, the service providers who get their ACT (availability, accessibility, affordability, capacity, coverage, cost, content, technology, timing, tariff) together can surely win the battles of the future.”

Overall, a useful addition to a rather limited bookshelf of readable and insightful books on Indian telecom. Now that the 2003 Act would repeal the 1885 Act, hopefully, a revised and updated edition should follow sooner than later.

Yes, yeh dil maange more (there is a desire for more).


 By Deepak Maheshwari

The author is a public policy consultant and researcher.