Measures on way to boost health of telcos: Ravi Shankar Prasad
Assurance from Ravi Shankar Prasad follows demand by top execs of Jio and Bharti at IMC, seeking enabling regulatory environment.
“The government must create favourable atmosphere for telecom companies to operate,” Prasad said at the India Mobile Congress (IMC) on Monday. “Some of them shared their concerns here. We-’re alive to the problem. We’re working on it... Telecom will remain a productive asset and not a nonproductive asset.”
He was responding to comments at the conference by top executives of Reliance Jio Infocomm and Bharti Airtel’s parent Bharti Enterprises, who called on the government to reduce the price of 5G spectrum in the runup to the next auction. Vodafone Idea chairman Kumar MangaMangalam Birla also underlined the need for an “enabling regulatory environment” to ensure telcos have the “necessary wherewithal to make commensurate investments to stay at the cutting edge of technology”.
The telecom regulator has recommended Rs 492 crore per MHz as the starting price for 5G airwaves, which the companies deem exorbitant.
“As far as spectrum pricing is concerned, let me say, we’re in the process of undertaking some reforms in spectrum pricing as well. So, please wait for (the) result,” Prasad said. ET had reported Monday that the government was working on a relief package for the industry. Lower prices will be a relief to the telecom industry, reeling under debt of over Rs 7 lakh crore, a large part of which stems from spectrum-related payments.
Prasad, also the information technology and law & justice minister, said the government aims to conduct the next round of auctions, including the sale of 5G airwaves, within this financial year. Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have all sought to delay the 5G auctions till India-specific use cases and the handset ecosystem are developed.
“As far as spectrum is concerned, let me announce spectrum auction will be done in this financial year,” Prasad said. The government had initially announced that it would hold the auction within the calendar year. The minister said he would do his best, but the companies would have to do their part by adopting new technologies.
The telecom regulator said it was up to the government to take a final call on spectrum price. “As part of the process, we have already recommended 5G base price,” said RS Sharma, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).
The Digital Communications Commission, the highest decisionmaking body of the government on the telecom sector, had asked the regulator to review the 5G reserve price in June. The regulator stood by the price.
“We have recommended 25 MHz of spectrum in the 3.3-3.6 GHz band to be allocated to the industry in a close environment, like in Germany,” Sharma said. The “Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) should give 25 MHz for industrial automation.” Jio is the only profitable telco in the Indian telecom sector, which has been battling falling revenue and profitability owing to the ongoing price war.
Other issues raised by the industry included right of way for fibre to take broadband into homes. Bharti Enterprises vice chairman Rakesh Mittal said state governments and municipalities were using this as an income source, despite the national rule to allow right of way already being place. Prasad said the telecom department understood the challenges faced by companies and will work with state governments on the matter.
“I will call a meeting of IT and local government ministers of various states, whereby we will resolve (this issue),” he said. “I will also write to the chief ministers.” On a separate note, Prasad said law enforcement agencies should be able to identify the source of messages that fuel false rumours and spark violence, while referring to India seeking the traceability of WhatsApp forwards, which the platform was refusing to provide. “We respect encryption, but where same message is being relayed repeatedly at same time, same area and on same issue to create chaos and spread false rumours, law enforcement agencies must have access,” he said. “Source of nuisance must be identified to deal with circulation of false rumours in such cases.”