Interview with Union Communications Minister A. Raja.
IN the 15 months since he took charge as Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology, A. Raja has ushered in an era of transparency in the functioning of his Ministry. He has travelled far and wide to invite investments in appropriate technologies and pushed for global participation in all major works and tenders. He has insisted that e-auction is the way forward. He has worked towards providing a level playing field for all telecom players.
He is clear that despite the big progress made in India over the past few years in developing information technology infrastructure and communications-related services, and setting up institutes of excellence, a lot more needs to be done.
In an interview he gave Frontline, he said the telecommunications revolution was waiting to happen in India. Excerpts:
What are the policies that have been implemented in the Department of Telecommunications [DoT] since you assumed charge?
I have implemented NTP-99 [National Telecom Policy] in letter and spirit for the first time and tried to achieve its objectives of rapid expansion of teledensity, reduction in tariff, and reduction in cost of providing telecom services. As recommended by TRAI [Telecom Regulatory Authority of India], I implemented the policy of No Cap on a number of service providers in a service area.
And DoT awarded 123 licences in 22 telecom circles, thus bringing in the much-desired competition in the sector.
I also announced the implementation of mobile number portability [MNP]. It is likely to be implemented in the metros and category A circles by the middle of 2009 and in the entire country by the end of 2009. Once new operators start functioning and MNP gets implemented consumers will get better services at a lower tariff.
After consulting radio frequency experts, I directed officials of the Department to coordinate the entire 2G spectrum band, which resulted in large-scale availability of unused 2G spectrum.
I have allowed sharing of infrastructure operators and this will reduce CAPEX of the operators substantially, paving the way for further reduction in tariff.
MTNLs market share has been growing despite the presence of private players with better marketing skills. What is your contribution to this growth?
I have been holding regular review meetings with senior officials of MTNL and have been encouraging them to provide better services at affordable prices.
Do you see any further scope for improvement in urban teledensity?
At present, urban teledensity is around 74 per cent, and I am sure it will go up to 90 per cent by 2010 with the introduction of new operators in each circle.
The launch of 3G is pitched to be the next greatest thing in mobile networking. But its auction seems to be ridden with controversy. Why so?
I do not see any controversy in the auction of 3G spectrum as it is being done in a very transparent manner as recommended by TRAI. Introduction of 3G services will catapult our telecom services to new heights, on a par with developed countries, as it will offer a host of benefits of voice, video call, access to high-speed Internet, video on demand, live TV, and data and other applications on mobile with the convenience of mobility.
Why were some big private players unhappy about the allocation of the 2G spectrum?
They appeared to be unhappy since fierce competition was injected by issuing new licences and enhancing subscriber-based criterion for allotment of additional spectrum, as suggested by TRAI.Will these new ventures be profitable?
India is a huge market of about one billion people. There is more scope as we have reached a figure of only 3,500 crore connections until now. However, with more operators entering the field, there will be fierce competition for the first time, resulting in lower tariffs and squeezed profits.