The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buzz on partial telecom licence

New Delhi, Feb. 7: The communications ministry is mulling over a proposal to offer partial licences to telecom service providers in rural and inaccessible areas.

At present, if a telecom company wishes to offer rural telephony it has to pay the licence fee for the whole circle or state. There is no provision for internet service providers, cable operators or non-governmental organisations to set up a communications network in one or a few villages.

A draft note has been circulated in the communications ministry that seeks to offer partial licences to various telecom operators and even educational institutions like Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to connect villages in rural areas.

“Last year there was a proposal from various non-governmental organisations stating that a licence may be issued to them to set up communications network using the available technology. An internal committee set up last year had drafted the guidelines, but there were a few legal and regulatory problems like amendments to the existing licences and the rollout obligations,” said a senior official in the communications ministry.

“We have taken up this draft and have circulated among the officials concerned to get a comment on the proposal. It is in the initial stage. However, there is potential in it to help achieve the government’s objective under the National Telecom Policy 1999 to connect all the villages by 2007,” sources said.

Officials also said such a licence will not be given to operate on commercial lines, but on a no-profit no-loss basis. Already Media Lab Asia and IIT Chennai have set a up a few pilot projects in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh using various technologies like CoreDect 802.11b (Wi-fi).

Recently Shyamal Ghosh, the administrator for the Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund had hinted that operators could seek resource allocations for connecting rural and inaccessible village that use ‘effective’ and ‘efficient’ technology.

“Such a proposal should help the various telecom operators to opt for new technology that do not lead to additional pressure on resources. If the USO fund is made available soon, then it will help us meet the rollout obligation before the target date of 2007,” said a senior executive in the Association of Basic Telecom Operators (ABTO).

“The cost-effective technology has been available with us for the last three years. If the government can provide some opportunities to entrepreneurs to set up their own small network or even a dhaba to connect nearby villages, it will enhance the teledensity in the rural areas,” said Prof Jhunjhunwala of IIT and the pioneer of CoreDect technology.

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