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BW Businessworld

It’s Only Words

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The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) release on the draft National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2011 has two interesting sections: a collection of 21 "important objectives" and a list of 30 "strategies". All policy documents are overarching mission statements, but this many objectives and ‘strategies' may render the whole exercise as one in futility.

Just 24 hours after minister of telecommunications Kapil Sibal unveiled the policy, DoT approached the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) seeking to increase the government's share of adjusted gross revenues (AGR) of telecom companies that it collects as licence fee. Contrast that with the policy's statement that "revenue generation will play a secondary role".

The government wants to finalise the policy document before year-end, ideally in two months. Given the several controversies that surrounded that last telecom policy document (NTP 1999), isn't the implementation of the new policy likely to take longer so as to avoid a repetition of the unpleasant political brouhaha?

Some critics suggest that the latest policy just repeats a large part of the last one; in that case, implementation would be the differentiator, including bringing greater clarity to the roles of the Trai and the DoT, and their respective jurisdictional areas. A critical aspect necessary for effective implementation is missing; there is a resounding silence on the much-required independence of the regulator — Trai — which is responsible for interpreting the policy, framing rules and enforcing them.

Many studies suggest that telecom contributes 1.5 per cent to GDP growth. The draft NTP says that a key policy objective is to double that to 3 per cent, but is largely silent on how that could happen. For instance, employment generation in the sector could be one, but the policy provides no direction on ideas or proposals that could bring that about.

To be sure, there is much good stuff in the policy: the abolition of roaming charges, a separate Act for spectrum allocation, etc. But let's not forget that last time round, the road to (telecom) hell was also paved with such good intentions.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 24-10-2011)