DoT Furnishes New Draft of Altered Telecom Policy for Public Consultation

The Department of Telecom (DoT) yesterday brought a new revelation to public via the draft of the National Telecom Policy which asks for public consultation in the areas of increased broadband connectivity, providing 4 million additional jobs in the digital communications sector, and also enhancing the contribution of the digital communications sector in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) to 8% from the previous figure of 6% in 2017. The draft policy which came into public limelight yesterday outlines three major goals for the Indian telecom industry which include Connect India which will be done using digital communications, Propel India which includes harnessing the power of emerging digital technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet Of Things (IoT), etc and lastly Secure India which aims to safeguard the digital sovereignty of India with a with a special focus on autonomy and choice, data ownership, privacy and security for the individuals.

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After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the government now aims to provide a comprehensive data protection regime which will protect the autonomy and privacy of the users and will further contribute to India’s participation in the Global digital economy.

The government hopes to accomplish these targets using various licenses and terms and conditions as and when necessary to incorporate provisions with respect to privacy and data protection and will also be supplemented by formulating a policy on encryption and data retention by the way of harmonising the legal and regulatory regime in India relating to cryptography with global standards, as applicable to communication networks and services.

Also, the policy outlines targets like setting up of 5 million public Wi-Fi Hotspots by 2020 and 10 million by 2022 through a National Broadband Mission apart from implementing a ‘Fiber First Initiative’ which seeks to increase fiber connectivity in homes. With the new draft, the government is also aiming to enable infrastructure convergence of IT, telecom and broadcasting sectors by making amendments to the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 along with some major changes which will facilitate the development in a similar direction.

The policy has also taken into account, the new spectrum bands for access and backhaul segments for timely deployment and growth of 5G networks, which it targets to identify and make available. This will happen in addition to further liberalising the spectrum sharing, leasing and trading regime.

To accomplish all these targets and to attract investments of $100 billion in the digital communications sector in lieu of increasing India’s contribution to global value chains, the government will review levies and fees including license fee, universal service obligation fund (USOF) levy and concept of pass-through revenues in line with principles of input line credit apart from rationalising spectrum usage charges (SUCs) which will reflect the costs of regulation and administration of spectrum.

According to current industry standards, telecom service providers pay 3-6% and 8% of their adjusted gross revenue as spectrum usage charges and licence fee to the DoT, respectively. The DoT also has plans for establishing a light touch licensing regime for the proliferation of public data offices (PDOs) and Public Data Office Aggregators for providing internet access through Wi-Fi hotspots.

Trai also presented a recommendations paper to Telecom Commission which talked about setting up PDOs which will be similar to (PCOs), except they will provide data facility instead of calling. These “pay-as-you-go” PDOs would facilitate cheap data availability, for as low as Rs 2 in small sachet like plans.

Lastly, the policy also has set up plans for creating funds for research and development in new technologies for start-ups and entrepreneurs in addition to rationalising taxes, levies and differential duties to encourage more and more local manufacturing of equipment, networks and devices which would bring domestic value in India, and on a larger scale will attract global equipment manufacturers to set up bases here in India.

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