Grow Up Associations!

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Some time ago, much before Indians made it to the top in the US corporations,

much before the Indian surname got one VC money easily in Silicon Valley, and

much before some of the Indians made it to the lists of the richest in the US,

one NRI gentleman, my friend’s uncle, had made an observation : in the US,

there is Tamil association, Oriya association, Telugu association... but no

Indian association.


Why I cite this is not to discuss the issues concerning Indian diaspora, but

to simply draw a parallel. I am referring to the various associations that we in

Indian telecom have today. We have the Cellular Operators Associations of India

(COAI), we have the Association of Basic Telecom Operators (ABTO), we have the

Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), we have Indian Paging

Services Association (IPSA), we have Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association

(TEMA), we have Telecom Cable Developers Association (TCDA)... But there is no

Telecom Association of India.


officials associated with various telecom associations think that

they won't enjoy the importance they do within the industry, if

they are not seen as active lobbyists. How wrong!



What is the need for an association? In India, if you ask this question,

invariably you will get an answer that would put it as lobbying with the

government as the prime function, may be in different words. In the highly

regulated markets, that is largely true. Especially in a segment like telecom

that is still in the phase of transition.


But there are other functions of an association too. Take CTIA in North

America for example. They not only do market development exercises, but are even

involved in standards making. Or closer home, look at Nasscom. Only a small part

of its job is lobbying with the government. No one who is remotely aware of

Indian IT needs to be told what it has done for the Indian IT (and now ITES,

even if I disagree with that terminology) industry.

Yes, telecom is still regulated and requires much more lobbying activity than

computer software. Yet, it is difficult to believe that an association’s job

is restricted to that. All of us acknowledge that Indian telecom has changed a

lot in the last eight years. The market liberalization has happened, though

somewhat slowly, to a great extent. Isn’t it natural to assume that the issues

that remain to be lobbied for have come down drastically?

Many senior industry people agree with this privately. Many of them talk

about the need to concentrate on market development. But few associations do



It may sound a little harsh, but I believe that many officials associated

with these associations think that they won’t enjoy the importance they do

today within the industry, if they are not seen as active lobbyists. While it

may be true partially, it cannot be a reason for not taking pioneering steps.

These pioneering steps could include market development, such as market

research, setting of quality-of-service parameters, helping consumers getting

educated about new services and technologies. With competitive pressure building

up, common awareness building is what the industry has to take on sooner or


These pioneering steps would include discussing the issue of importance to

industry in a platform that gives true importance to genuine idea sharing–whether

the cause is common or conflicting. After seeing the kind of response that we

get in the Top View series of panel discussions, I am no longer willing to take

the arguments that senior industry executives do not turn up, if the minister

and/or the secretary are not invited. And they come only for networking.


These steps could involve working closely with the government to decide on

standards for India. Tomorrow, India is going to be the biggest telecom market

in the world.

However, all this requires that many times–I will be naïve to assume

always–the different segments of industry should speak in a common voice. That

could mean having a common association of telecom industry in India–which

would do lobbying as well, but give more importance to other industry-wide

issues, which are common to all segments.

Ideally, it should be one telecom industry association with strong technical

and marketing committees that should have experts in the area, drawn from all

sub-segments, who could add value through their contribution to the whole

industry. After all, Metcalf’s Law also holds true for industry networking.

The sooner the associations graduate to next level of industry ‘development’,

the better it is for their future. Else, their role will soon be restricted to

preparing memoranda and providing quotes for the lazy journalists! n