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Why spectrum needs a change in approach

GS Paper 3

 

Source: Indian Express

Syllabus: Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

Directions: This Article has been taken from the Indian Express and the Hindu and discusses the existing flaws in our spectrum policy along with suggesting a way forward.

 

Context:  On September 22, the government released the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, seeking to replace the colonial era Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

 

Draft telecommunication bill, 2022:

  • Updated and Consolidated Various laws: It is an attempt by the Department of telecommunication to update the extant regulatory framework and consolidate various legislations presently governing the telecommunication landscape in India.
  • Repealed Old legislations: It looks to repeal three legislations i.e. the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
  • Introduced technological advancements: The new regulatory framework aims to bring the law at par with technological advancements and remove obsolete provisions from the colonial era laws.

 

Status of spectrum policy in India: India liberalized the telecom sector in 1981. It had initially adopted first-cum first licence policy during the initial days of mobile telephony. However, the 2G scam led to the replacement of the previous policy with the open auction of spectrum.

  • Achievement: Despite the recognised failure, India has billion-plus mobile subscribers, and 800 million internet users and hosts the second-largest telecommunications network in the world.

 

Existing issues concerning the spectrum policy of India:

  • Digital divide: Effective access to the spectrum has remained a significant barrier.
  • Huge potential but with technical limitations: Spectrum having the characteristics of a public good is also an inexhaustible resource.
    • But while spectrum per se is not depletable, there are technical limitations to its optimum utilization at a given point in time.
  • High cost of spectrum acquisition: Since 2010, the government has consistently used auctions for spectrum allocation, this has increased government revenues but private companies have increased the rate of mobile telephony to recoup the cost.
  • High reserve price: This has often led to low off-take of available spectrum and thus revenue loss for the government.
    • According to one estimate, spectrum cost in India is amongst the most expensive in the world.
  • Inequity: Commercialization of the spectrum has resulted in some areas being underserved or unserved affecting quality and quantity.

 

What could be the fresh approach?

  • Active promotion of the idea of ‘niche operators’: The draft bill incorporates practical provisions on the spectrum such as use it, share it or lose it – an awaited policy that, however, needs innovative support to be successful.
  • Correcting the cost of spectrum and promoting investment in underserved areas.
  • Adopting innovative methods: g. Canada has initiated consultations on a non-competitive local licensing framework to facilitate broadband connectivity in rural areas.
  • Promoting transparency: The government should build an ecosystem that inspires trust so that transparency in the assignment can be secured at a reasonable price for operators with strict service obligations.
  • Enhancing healthy competition

 

Conclusion:

The vision of “Digital India” can never be realised if affordable broadband connectivity remains only within the reach of a few.

What is spectrum?

Spectrum refers to the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over. Devices such as cell phones and wireline telephones require signals to connect from one end to another.

·         These signals are carried on airwaves (medium of radio waves), which must be sent at designated frequencies to avoid any kind of interference.

·         All these airwaves are sold for a certain period of time, after which their validity lapses, which is generally set at 20 years.

·         The Union government owns all the publicly available assets within the geographical boundaries of the country, which also include airwaves.

 

Insta Links

Prelims link

  • What are spectrum auctions?
  • 4g Vs 5g
  • LTE vs VoLTE
  • TRAI
  • Department of Telecommunications (DoT)

Mains Links:

Q. Spectrum auction in India has turned into a buyer’s market. Discuss.

 

In India, which of the following reviews the Independent regulators in sectors like telecommunications, insurance, electricity, etc.? (UPSC 2019)

 

1.       Ad Hoc Committees set up by the Parliament

2.       Parliamentary Department-Related Standing Committees

3.       Finance Commission

4.       Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission

5.       NITI Aayog

 

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a. 1 and 2

b. 1, 3 and 4

c. 3, 4 and 5

d. 2 and 5

 

Ans: (a)

 

Justification:

 

In India, there are 24 Department Related Standing Committees that review the working of regulators within their respective departments. Ad Hoc Committees set up by the Parliament may examine the working of regulators. The role of the Finance Commission and NITI Aayog is advisory in nature and they do not review independent regulators.