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|January 22, 1999||
In some last-minute haggling the Department of Telecommunications has agreed to withdraw most of its objections to the changes that the draft of the new telecom policy proposes.
This is amenable attitude is in contrast to the regressive and roguish image that the press has built for DoT.
These promises should now help the government ease regulations to allow convergence of technologies in telecommunications and broadcasting.
These decisions were, in a way, forced after it became imperative that the electromagnetic frequency bandwidth for commercial exploitation would have to be broadened.
The way global technology has forced policy on nations like India bear out Wired Executive Editor's Kevin Kelly's observation that "Government often behave as though it has an option when it comes to technology!"
At a meeting held at the Prime Minister's Office earlier this week, DoT had objected to certain policy measures because it feared losing control over the sector.
It also was concerned about the monopoly that the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited enjoys at present in high teledensity areas of Bombay and New Delhi.
In order to arrive at a consensus, the PMO decided to finalise matters by convening a special meeting before the Group on Telecom meets tomorrow.
ICICI Chairman K V Kamath chaired yesterday's meeting. It was attended by representatives from the PMO and DoT.
The impact of the meeting means that services such as basic telephony will not require licences from the government and will be taken out of the clutches of MTNL.
The only criteria will be permission worked around a revenue-sharing agreement that will be formulated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
However, the government has not ruled out another option. The alternative is that the operators could be required to pay a lump sum to enter this crucial segment.
The initiative to permit cable operators into basic telephony has the potential to change the industry beyond recognition. That is because it would be the best example of technology convergence that is dogging the path of technocrats and policy makers.
Cable operators already provide television services and are now permitted to provide Internet services. Basic services will add value to their package and give them a more significant place in the telecom space.
Businesses like the Hinduja's In Network and the Murdoch-Subhash Chandra owned Siticable would be among the primary beneficiaries.
Siticable has already expressed interest in providing Internet services through cable and the Hindujas are reportedly putting an optical fibre network in place.
DoT has also agreed to give up its monopoly on long-distance services. Sources claim that the bureaucrats have realised that they could still have decent clout in the industry because many players may provide backbone networks from which lines could be licensed or leased.
However, crucial issues pertaining to cellular and 'wireless in local loop' services still hang fire.
DoT is believed to be insisting on a duopoly with blanket permission to MTNL or DoT that holds a licence for WLL services.
Government sources say that this issue would be resolved at the PMO level and, if necessary, by the prime minister himself. The prime minister is extremely keen on getting the new telecom policy underway. He feels that the government should minimise its say in the progress of the sector and hence has indicated the need to give the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India more powers.
- Compiled from the Indian media
- Compiled from the Indian media
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