The new telecom policy in the works should ensure equal policies for competing technologies, an advance yearly road map for spectrum allocation, and cut levies for operators, industry body Celullar Operators Association of India has said. The policy should have some “permanent fixes” for the failing financial health of the sector and the industry cannot be treated “as a place to go for revenue”, COAI Director General Rajan Mathews told PTI.
The policy – the work on which has already started at the telecom department – should ensure level-playing-field between mobile operators and over-the-top players (Internet- based calling and messaging providers like WhatsApp). Having equal policies for competing technologies would protect investments made by licensed mobile operators by ensuring regulatory predictability and consistency, according to COAI, whose members include operators Airtel, Vodafone, Idea as also newcomer Reliance Jio.
Propagating the “same service same rules” principle, Mathews said the new policy should bring OTT communication services under the licensing ambit just as mobile operators or else “deregulate” everyone. “There should be same-service-same-rules principle. If such players are deregulated, then deregulate us as well.
If they are offering voice too, why is it that only mobile operators are paying levies like licence fee and spectrum charge?” Mathews wondered.
He said COAI has placed its submissions on the new policy before the Department of Telecom. Terming a robust policy on spectrum as “necessity” in ensuring its efficient management and allocation, the association has sought a long-term and clear road map for releasing radio waves for cellular technologies. The same should be reviewed every five years or earlier, the industry body added.
COAI has also asked the government to ensure there is no delicensing or free allocation of spectrum, particularly below 1GHz bands, which are critical and more valuable. Mathews felt that the new policy should be a vehicle for returning industry to financial health.
Accordingly, COAI has renewed some of its past demands like reduction of spectrum usage charge to uniform 1 per cent and lowering of Universal Service Obligation (used for rural rollout) contribution to 3 per cent before the phasingut of the levy in 2-3 years.
Alternatively, COAI has said the USO Fund levy can be rationalised as per rural rollout done by an operator, or USO
contribution can be kept in abeyance till the entire amount of available corpus gets fully disbursed.
The comments come at a time when mobile operators –large and small — are reeling under a massive Rs 4.6 lakh crore debt burden and the industry’s revenue, profitability and key operational metrics are under pressure hurt by competition and freebies from newcomer Jio.
An inter-ministerial group, which has been constituted to look into the financial issues of the telecom sector and suggest remedial measures, is expected to submit its report later this month. DoT has, meanwhile, also started consultations with the industry and academia on the new telecom policy and hopes to finalise it by March 2018.