New draft policy
Telecommunications is one of the most dynamic and rapidly growing sectors in India. To address the needs and concerns of this sector, the first national telecommunications policy was issued in 1994, followed by a second policy in 1999. The Department of Telecommunications has recently issued the draft National Telecommunications Policy 2011.
The 1994 policy aimed at "making telecommunication for all and telecommunication within the reach of all". Priority was given to:
- access to telecommunications services for all (including the villages) at affordable and reasonable prices;
- quality of telecommunications services;
- manufacture and export of telecommunications equipment; and
- protection of defence and security interests.
These objectives are of such a nature that their importance can never be undermined. Nonetheless, with the expansion of the telecommunications sector and the emergence of new technologies to provide services, a number of new concerns and issues arose, leading to the issuance of a new telecommunications policy in 1999.
While the 1999 policy re-emphasised the objectives of the 1994 policy, at the same time it acknowledged the increasing convergence of the information technology, consumer electronics and media industries with the telecommunications sector and the blurring difference between different conduit systems as a result of the evolving technology. It aimed to achieve a balance between the provision of basic telecommunications services to all uncovered areas, as well as to:
- provide high-level services and spectrum management;
- create a modern and efficient infrastructure, taking convergence into account;
- create a level playing field for all players;
- strengthen research and development efforts to build world-class manufacturing capabilities; and
- enable Indian telecommunications companies to become truly global players.
Since the 1999 policy was issued, the telecommunications sector in India has undergone numerous further changes, ranging from a reduction in tariffs to an increase in telecommunications operators and the emergence of new services and technologies. It was therefore felt that a fresh, forward-looking telecommunications policy was needed.
The draft National Telecommunications Policy 2011 issued by the Department of Telecommunications again aims at providing the people of India with secure, reliable, affordable and high quality converged telecommunication services; anytime, anywhere. Therefore, with this aim in mind, it has many more objectives and forward-looking strategies. Some of the notable strategies relating to licensing, spectrum and networks are as follows.
Licensing of telecommunications services
The telecommunications sector started with separate licences for each service (eg, a separate licence for the provision of fixed telecommunication services and a separate licence for cellular mobile telecommunications services). These were subsequently converged into one licence - namely, the unified access service licence (UASL). The holder of a UASL is therefore authorised to provide fixed as well as cellular mobile telecommunications services. UASLs are granted in respect of service areas. Furthermore, at present, there are additional telecommunications services, which require separate licences (eg, national long distance service or international long distance service).
One of the objectives of the draft policy is "one nation - one license across services and service areas". The implementation of this objective would require streamlining and combination of multiple services within one umbrella.
In recent years, the telecommunications sector has witnessed multiple issues relating to spectrum, including a scarcity of available spectrum and issues relating to pricing of spectrum. It has also witnessed positive developments in terms of auctions of third-generation and broadband wireless access spectrum. At present, the granting of spectrum is linked to the licence held by the telecommunications service provider and pooling, sharing or trading of spectrum is not permitted.
The objectives and strategies of the draft policy include:
- ensuring adequate availability of spectrum;
- de-linking spectrum for all future licences;
- permitting spectrum pooling, sharing and trading; and
- enacting a Spectrum Act which, among other things, will deal with all issues connected to wireless spectrum licences and their terms and conditions.
Network availability is an essential ingredient for the provision of telecommunications services by telecommunications operators. Initially, operators were allowed to share only passive infrastructure. The guidelines on infrastructure sharing issued by the Department of Telecommunications in 2008 permitted telecommunications operators to also share limited active infrastructure (ie, antenna, feeder cable, node B, radio access network and transmission system).
The draft policy objectives include sharing of networks and delinking the licensing of networks from the delivery of service to the end-users, in order to facilitate a faster roll-out of services across the country. It also envisages technology neutral unified licences in two separate categories:
- licences for network service operators or communication network service operators; and
- licences for service delivery operators or communication service delivery operators.
At present, the draft National Telecommunications Policy 2011 has been issued in order to invite comments from the stakeholders and will be set in motion only following deliberations and consultations on these comments. The objectives and strategies envisaged by the draft policy involve the streamlining of multiple interests of various segments within the telecommunications sector, as well as looking to raise the standards of telecommunications services to a higher level. Various challenges will need to be addressed, and it will be interesting to see how these objectives and strategies are finally implemented.
For further information on this topic please contact Inder Mohan Singh or Kanchan Sinha at Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co by telephone (+91 11 2692 0500), fax (+ 91 11 2692 4900) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]).