The Department of Telecommunications recently issued the 2012 National Telecommunications Policy through an office memorandum dated June 13 2012. Previous policies issued by the department include the 1999 New Telecommunications Policy and the 1994 National Telecommunications Policy. The department also issued the 2004 Broadband Policy.
Although the 2012 policy does not itself change the existing law, it sets out the objectives and strategies that the government intends to adopt when introducing changes to the law or reforms within the telecommunications sector. Furthermore, it sets out the overall direction that the government is expected to take in regulating the sector.
The 2012 policy contains a number of both specific and generic objectives, statements and strategies. The main highlights of the policy are as follows.
The department aims to achieve its goal of 'One Nation - One Licence' across services and service areas. The 1999 policy provided for licences on the basis of specific services and specific geographical service areas. The department issed an addendum to the 1999 policy on November 11 2003, which provided that licences for telecommunications services should fall under the following categories:
- unified licences for telecommunication services, which permit licensees to provide all telecommunications and telegraph services covering various geographical areas using any technology; and
- unified access service licences (UASLs), which permit licensees to provide basic and/or cellular services using any technology in a defined service area.
The November 11 2003 guidelines also detailed the process for granting UASLs and made it possible for existing basic service operators and cellular service operators to migrate to the UASL regime. In addition, the department provided that any new licence for basic or cellular services would be issued under the UASL regime. The UASL regime has now been fully implemented - most operators either have been issued with a UASL or have migrated to the UASL regime. UASLs are granted in respect of service areas - at present, the country is divided into 22 service areas.
In addition, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has made a number of recommendations to the department in relation to the unified licence regime, which are under consideration. The 2012 policy shows that the government intends to implement this regime, but it is yet to issue detailed guidelines.
The department aims to achieve its goal of 'One Nation - Full Mobile Number Portability' by extending the intra-circle mobile number portability (MNP) facility on a nationwide basis, so that users can retain their mobile number when shifting from one service area to another, irrespective of service provider. At present, India has limited portability. In 2009, the department issued MNP licences. The country is divided into two MNP zones, each of which consists of 11 service areas.
The department aims to achieve its goal of 'One Nation - Free Roaming'. At present, subscribers must pay for roaming charges if they move out of the service area of the telecommunications operator from which they receive their mobile connection.
The department aims to ensure the adequate availability of spectrum and its allocation in a transparent manner through market-related processes. Spectrum was traditionally allocated by the department on the basis of individual applications received from telecommunications operators. From 2010 onwards, the department changed its allocation system so that third-generation and broadband wireless access spectrum slots were allocated by the department through an online auction. The 2012 policy shows that the government intends to maintain the auction system in future.
The department aims to delink spectrum in respect of all future licences. At present, the granting of spectrum is linked to telecommunications licences. Once a company has been granted a UASL, it can procure spectrum from the department and deploy it for the purposes of roll-out under such licence.
Pooling, sharing and trading
The department aims to move as early as possible towards the liberalisation of spectrum in order to enable the use of spectrum in any band to provide any service through any technology, as well as to permit spectrum pooling and sharing. The department later hopes to allow spectrum trading, in order to enable the optimal utilisation of spectrum through an appropriate regulatory framework.
At present, spectrum pooling, sharing and trading are not allowed and spectrum can be utilised only by the licensee to which it has been allotted.
The department aims to orient, review and harmonise the legal, regulatory and licensing framework in a timely manner in order to facilitate the seamless delivery of converged services in a technology and service-neutral environment. Convergence would cover:
- services (ie, voice, data, video, internet telephony (Voice over Internet Protocol), value-added and broadcasting services);
- networks (ie, access, carriage (in relation to national and international long distance licences) and broadcast networks); and
- devices (ie, telephones, personal computers, televisions, radios, set top boxes and other connected devices).
The 1999 policy did not contemplate convergence in the manner stated in the 2012 policy. Convergence of licensing of services and licensing of networks separately is contemplated in the Convergence Bill, but this bill has not yet been approved by Parliament.
Delinking of network and services
The department aims to delink the licensing of networks from the delivery of services to end users, in order to enable operators to utilise their networks and spectrum optimally and efficiently by sharing active and passive infrastructure.
The 1999 policy provided for licences on the basis of specific services and specific geographical service areas. As far as the unified licence regime is concerned, the TRAI has made recommendations to the department, which are under consideration. The TRAI recommendations propose to group various services within the scope of a single licence. At present, the recommendations do not contemplate the delinking of network and services, such that there is a separate licence for all services and a separate licence for all networks.
Unified licensing regime
The new unified licence regime will provide flexibility to operators to carry out any or all segments of services within the total range of services provided by the scope of the licence. The entry fee regime will also be made flexible. The 2012 policy shows that the government intends to implement the unified licence regime, but it is yet to issue detailed guidelines.
Introduction of virtual operators
The department aims to facilitate resale at the service level under the proposed licensing regime - both wholesale and retail (eg, by introducing virtual operators) - in line with the need for robust competition at the consumer level, while ensuring due compliance with security and other licence-related obligations. At present, virtual operators are not permitted in India.
The department aims to put in place a simplified M&A regime for the telecommunications service sector, while ensuring adequate competition. Intra-circle mergers of cellular mobile telephone service (CMTS) licences and UASLs are governed by the guidelines issued by the department in April 2008. Under these guidelines, no merger activity is allowed if the number of UASL or CMTS licence holders in a service area falls below four or the market share of the merged entity is greater than 40%, either in terms of subscriber base (separately for wireless and wired subscribers) or in terms of adjusted gross revenue. Also, any merger of such licences requires the prior approval of the department. The TRAI has made recommendations for the modification of these guidelines. Under the most recent recommendations issued in 2011, the proposal is to introduce the concept of 'red line' to 'green line' as follows.
Market share of
Between 0% and 35%
'Green line'/safe harbour - to be permitted by the government
Between 35% and 60%
To be referred to the TRAI for recommendations
'Red line' - not to be considered
The recommendations are yet to be implemented by the department.
The department aims to revise the existing broadband download speed of 256 kilobytes per second (kbps) to 512 kbps. The speed will subsequently be further revised to 2 megabytes per second (mbps) by 2015 and higher speeds of at least 100 mbps thereafter. Under the department's Broadband Policy 2004, 'broadband' has been defined as a data connection with a minimum download speed of 256 kbps.
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]d.com).