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Telecom buzz on 'one licence'

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is looking to shake the foundations of the telecom industry by floating the idea of One Nation, One Licence for services - which will effectively unite and consolidate the fragmented world of 23 telecom circles that India has lived with since 1994 when private players were first allowed to launch cellular mobile services under a duopoly in service areas that were broadly co-terminous with provinces and the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai.

On Wednesday, the telecom regulator floated a consultation paper that aims to hash out strategies that will propel India into the league of the top 50 nations in terms of network readiness, communications systems and services.

The paper outlines some very big objectives: attract an investment of $100 billion in the telecom sector, attain an average speed of 20 Mbps for wireless and 50 Mbps for wireline internet connectivity.

Akamai Technologies' State of the Internet Report for the first quarter of 2017 had ranked India at 87th with an average internet speed of 6.5 Mbps.

The paper seeks inputs from all stakeholders for the formulation of the National Telecom Policy 2018 with the objective of easing the grant of licences and permissions processes for the allocation of spectrum, reviewing licensing and regulatory compliance costs in line with international practices, allowing broadcast services using cellular mobile networks, promising to lay the road to a Digital Valhalla with connectivity for all and embracing new technologies such as 5G and Internet of Things.

Stakeholders have been requested to furnish written comments by January 19. After taking into consideration the comments, counter comments, and views of stakeholders, Trai will send its final inputs to the government for formulation of the new National Telecom Policy - which is being recast after a period of six years.

The paper said the National Telecom Policy-2018 will have two broad goals: facilitate development of communication infrastructure and services to achieve inclusive socio-economic growth and, second, propel India to become the front-runner in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It said most of the objectives of the telecom policy of 2012 had been met except the target to raise rural tele-density to 70 by 2017, and to 100 by 2020; and to provide "broadband-on-demand" by 2015.

The new policy sets out the ambitious objective of increasing rural tele-density to 100 per cent, provide data connectivity of at least 1 gigabits per second to all gram panchayats; enable access for wireline broadband to 50 per cent households in the country; enable access to high-quality wireless broadband services at affordable prices to 90 per cent of the population; achieve 900 million broadband connections at a minimum download speed of 2 Mbps, out of that at least 150 million broadband connections at a minimum download speed of 20 Mbps; and develop 10 million public Wi-Fi hotspots in the country.

The new policy will declare a roadmap for availability and auction of spectrum in different bands, ensure adequate availability of contiguous, broader and globally harmonised spectrum, and earmark unlicensed frequency bands periodically for operation of low power devices for public use.

It hopes to facilitate non-discriminatory, time-bound right of way permissions for telecom infrastructure through a nation-wide common portal for application and approval. It will also seek to develop a network readiness index for states and union territories to address right of way challenges.

It will map telecom infrastructure assets like OFC cables, common service ducts and towers on NIC's National GIS Platform.

It will seek to make provisions for the establishment of common service ducts for underground telecom infrastructure in the Indian Telegraph Right of Way Rules, 2016.

There are also plans to establish the office of a telecom ombudsman who will seek to redress complaints through a web-based system.

The new policy will also prescribe licensing and regulatory framework for cloud service providers; declare data privacy, protection, and security laws; prescribe policy for cross-border data transfer; enact net-neutrality laws; incentivise the setting up of International Data Centers (IDCs) in India; ensure expeditious availability of land, electricity, and security for data centers; and provide human capital for data analytics and product development.

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