The National Telecom Policy was adopted by the cabinet on May 31, 2012. It was released in public domain later in June. Among other things, the policy aims to provide a single licence framework, un-bundle spectrum from licences, and liberalise spectrum. Previously, the central government had decided to unbundle spectrum and licenses for all future licences on January 29, 2011. TRAI too in its recommendation dated May 11, 2010 and April 23, 2012 sought to de-link spectrum from licences. The Supreme Court in the 2G judgment had held that spectrum should not be allocated on a first-cum-first-serve basis and should instead be auctioned. In the April 23 recommendations, TRAI has detailed the mechanism for auctioning spectrum. TRAI has also recommended moving to a unified licence framework under which a single licence would be required to provide any telecom service. It has also recommended that spectrum should be liberalised so that any technology could be used to exploit it. The new policy is in line with the government decisions and TRAI recommendations discussed above. The policy also aims to achieve higher connectivity and quality of telecommunication services. Its key features are detailed below.
- Licensing: Presently, as per the 2003 Amendment to the 1999 Telecom Policy, there are two forms of licences – Unified Service Licence (to provide any telegraph service in various geographical areas) and Unified Access Service Licence (to provide basic and cellular services in defined service areas). The new policy targets simplification of licensing framework by establishing a unified license for all telecom services and conversion to a single-license system for the entire country. It also seeks to remove roaming charges.
- Spectrum: As of now spectrum bands are reserved on the basis of technology that may be used to exploit them. For instance, the 900 and 1800 bands are reserved for GSM technology and 800 for use of CDMA technology. The new policy seeks to liberalise spectrum. Further, spectrum would be de-linked from all future licenses. Spectrum would be refarmed so that it is available to be used for new technology. The policy aims to move to a system where spectrum can be pooled, shared and traded. Periodic audits of spectrum usage would be conducted to ensure efficient utilization of spectrum. The policy aims at making 300 MHz of additional spectrum available for mobile telecom services by the year 2017 and another 200 MHz by 2020.
- Connectivity: The policy aims to increase rural tele-density from the current level of approximately 39% to 70% by 2017, and 100% by 2020. It seeks to provide 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by 2020 at a minimum 2 Mbps download speed. Higher download speeds of 100 Mbps would be made available on demand. Broadband access to all village panchayats would be made available by 2014 and to all villages by 2020. The policy aims to recognise telecom, including broadband connectivity, as a basic necessity like education and health, and work towards the ‘Right to Broadband’.
- Promotion of domestic industry: The policy seeks to incentivise and give preference to domestic telecom products in procurements that (i) have security implications for India; or (ii) are for the government’s own use. It also seeks to establish a Telecom Finance Corporation to mobilise and channelise finances for telecom projects.
- Legislations: The policy seeks to review the TRAI Act to remove impediments to effective functioning of TRAI. It also seeks to review the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. The need to review the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 was also recognised in the 1999 Telecom Policy.
The policy as adopted can be accessed here.