The newly appointed MP from Patna Sahib, Ravi Shankar Prasad has been appointed as Union Minister of Law, Electronics & IT and Communications and there is lot of work which needs to be done on priority for ICT sector. The Agenda 2.0 for Ravi Shankar Prasad would be to improve financial health of telecom, faster implementation of BharatNet project, better network quality for both voice and data, finalisation of Data Protection and Privacy Bill, Impetus to Make In India and auction of 5G spectrum.
Improve financial health of telecom operators:
The telecom operators has a net debt of around Rs. 400,000 crore which includes debt from Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio. Bharti Airtel’s consolidated net debt has increased to Rs. 108,235 crore from Rs. 106,367 crore in Q3 2018-19. Gross debt for Vodafone Idea as on March 31, 2019 was Rs. 125,940 crore, including deferred spectrum payment obligations due to government of Rs. 90,680 Crore. Cash & cash equivalents were Rs. 75,500 crore resulting in net debt of Rs. 118,390 crore. For Reliance Industries, the outstanding debt as on 31st March 2019 was Rs. 287,505 crore compared to Rs. 218,763 crore as on 31st March, 2018 of which majority is due to Reliance Jio.
With telecom operators running in huge debts, the government has no other option but to improve the financial viability of the telecom operators by reducing revenue sharing of operators to a minimum so that they can get some relief and thereby focus on expanding 4G infrastructure and also participate in 5G spectrum auction planned in the second half of FY2019-20.
Faster Implementation of BharatNet Phase 2:
BharatNet Phase 2 talks about laying OFC in 250,000 gram panchayat (GP) and also deploying 3-5 WiFi access points in all gram panchayats. As per present status, the number of gram panchayats (GPs) where OFC laid is 127,824 and number of gram panchayat (GPs) for which agencies decided to install Wi-Fi is 105,000 of which Wi-Fi is installed in 44,136 GPs and Wi-Fi is operational in 13,997 GPs. So, in toto, the government needs to lay out fiber in around 123,000 gram panchayats and install Wi-Fi in around 206,000 gram panchayats. This is a mammoth task and the government needs to do this project under war footing and complete it by March 2019.
Not only, this the government also needs to work on financial viability of BharatNet Phase 2 so that this infrastructure can be used by all
ministries say Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises; Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare; Ministry of Rural Development; Ministry of Panchayati Raj; Ministry of Food Processing Industries; Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment; Ministry of Human Resource Development; Ministry of Tribal Affairs; Ministry of Women and Child Development; Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Ministry of Minority Affairs; Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship; and Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries. Once all the above ministries start using these network, farmers can think of doubling their income at the earliest and farming will be a lucrative business in future.
Better Network Quality:
Despite investment in infrastructure by mobile operators, the network quality for both voice and data still needs to be perfected by the Indian mobile operators. With fibre connectivity to mobile towers at around 30 per cent, the government has to see how it can expedite it to 50 per cent by March 2020 and 75 per cent by March 2021. The fiber connectivity to mobile towers will be beneficial not only for 4G network quality but also for 5G network quality as it will increase the upload and download speed of the network and also improve network quality for voice.
Finalisation of Draft Data Protection and Privacy Bill:
In July 2018, Justice BN Srikrishna Committee has submitted the Draft Data Protection and Privacy Bill which is currently awaiting Cabinet nod. Multinationals have raised voice against data localisation which states that all companies should ensure at least one copy of personal data is stored in India. Failing to comply will result in penalties in the range of 2-4 percent of companies global turnover or fines between Rs. 5 crore and Rs. 15 crore, whichever is higher. The bill needs to be finalised at the earliest so that Indian companies can benefit in the long run and it is also beneficial for law enforcing agencies.
Impetus to Make in India:
With many Indian smartphone and feature phone companies on the verge of closure or closed, the government needs to provide impetus to Make in India companies at the earliest. This will give a new leash of life to Make in India companies. Not only this, the government also needs to focus on component manufacturing in a big way so that India moves up the ladder in terms of localisation of components which is very helpful not only for smartphone industry but also for automotive electronics, defence electronics and medical electronics.
Auction of 5G spectrum:
The government needs to keep 5G reserve price at a lower threshold so that 5G is a profitable business venture for all mobile operators in the country. Not only this, the government should make it compulsory for 5G deployment in all 250,000 gram panchayats within a given time frame so that operators can come out with agri-related 5G use cases which is beneficial for villagers in the long run. This will help in increasing crop yield and giving a major boost to the rural economy.
5G spectrum auction will also help the government to get lots of revenue thereby bridging the fiscal deficit. All these needs to be done on a priority basis so that the government can gain confidence of mobile operators and mobile manufacturers which will help Digital India program to reach every sector of the economy, every corner of the country and impacting the life of all Indians, be it rural or urban.