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The many firsts of the National Digital Communications Policy 2018

The aspects of Fiber First, satellite communications, public Wi-Fi, skill development and capacity building are some of the new entrants in the NDCP 2018

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With a view to cater to the modern needs of the digital communications sector of India, the Union Cabinet recently approved the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 (NDCP 2018). Under the new telecom policy, the government aims to provide universal broadband connectivity at 50 Mbps to every citizen. It has kept a target of providing 1 Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats by 2020 and 10 Gbps by 2022.

T V Ramachandran, President, Broadband India Forum was personally and closely involved in the framing of the NDCP 2018. “There are many unique characteristics of the policy; not only in the terms of content, but also the manner in which it was formulated. The making and the process followed to come up with the final draft,” says Ramachandran.

Ramachandran has been involved in the telecom sector since 1994. He has been witness to how the four policies prior to the NDCP 2018 were finalised – in 1994, 1999, 2012 and 2014.

All the other policies were good in their own way. “I will not belittle any of the other policies. Particularly, the 1994 National Telecom Policy (NTP) was world class,” says Ramachandran. However in the current policy, there have been multiple considerations, which were there in 1994 too but far less vis-a-vis, in the NDCP 2018. From October 2017 until the finalisation, there have been umpteen round of discussions with stakeholders across the board, alongside discussions with multiple industries, telecom think-tanks and policy forums, chambers of commerce.

“The Broadband India Forum provided 500 pages of submissions. Similarly reams of pages of submissions were received from other industry forums. The process followed by DoT to combine these inputs and put them in perspective was very well organised,” comments Ramachandran.

To begin with, Aruna Sundararajan, Telecom Secretary and Chairman of the Telecom Commission briefed on the process to be followed to discuss the multi stakeholder inputs. Subsequently, 13 committees were formed. Each committee was tasked to work on a certain area of the policy. Each committee was headed by a senior official of the rank of joint secretary.

Committees

  • Digital India: The committee studied the various aspects of smart cities, homes, businesses, universal access to phones, broadband highways, rural public Wi-Fi hotspots, digital payments, etc.
  • Security: The committee looked into telecom incident management, data security, subscriber privacy, network security, securing government communication.

There were also committees on New Technologies, licensing framework, Make In India, infrastructure, spectrum management, skill development and capacity building, allocation and pricing of resources, wherein all the resources needed for telecom were discussed. Resources like spectrum, Right of Way (RoW), taxation, duties and levies on the sector, ease of doing business, committee on disaster management, legislative framework, which includes what needs to be done on the Indian Telegraph act, Indian Wireless Act, etc. The last committee was on the strategic financial planning. It includes the inclusion of digital financial services, ease of doing business and improving financial health of telecom service providers.

Some of these aspects have never been examined before as a run up to forming the telecom policy. These committees individually interacted with the industry, academia, institutions, etc. The Telecom Secretary and the Special Secretary N Sivasailam were closely involved in these deliberations.

“The policy that we have in hand has transcended the telecom sector and is more in lines with the realm of the digital world. Even in Europe, they no longer use the word ‘telecom’, but Digital,” says Ramachandran. The way apps are surging ahead, OTTs are proliferating at a rapid pace and thus the ambit of telecom has widened from what it was in 1994 and thus the name Digital Communications Policy 2018.

The firsts in the policy
There are a number of aspects absent in the previous policies, which are present in the current policy. A Fiber First initiative has been taken. From now on, a large part of connectivity will be established on fiber. The policy considers fiber optic connectivity as a public utility. Data cannot be consumed without fiber and when the country is moving towards 5G, the normal copper cables and spectrum cannot cope up; fiber is a must.

“5G can be integrated well with the last mile, but how do you backhaul – for that fiber is a must,” Ramachandran points out, putting thrust on the importance of Fiber First. India has less than 15th of the fiber presence that USA and China has. Hence, fiber layout is a huge shortcoming that needs to be addressed.

Satellite Communications (SatCom) has been given due weightage. Over four paragraphs are dedicated exclusively for SatCom. It wasn’t given enough importance, as was the case with fiber in the past. India is a huge country where the reach of fibre is limited and thus SatCom has the potential to reach the far flung areas. According to a study, over 10 Gb of bandwidth is wasted from the satellites all over India. SatCom can be used to harness this wastage. It can be used to deliver content to the rural household.

The need for public Wi-Fi has been duly recognised in this policy. It has been visualised in the policy, that by 2022, the country should have 10 million public Wi-Fi hotspots. Currently, India has less than 30,000 or 40,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots; whereas, the world average is eight million. “You also need public Wi-Fi to offload the traffic from mobile to Wi-Fi. This will move the pressure from the spectrum over and onto the public Wi-Fi,” states Ramachandran. This will also improve the quality of service on the mobile.

Finally, TRAI was also consulted and invited to provide recommendations for the policy. The implementation will be the key after coming up with such a versatile policy. The telecom secretary has formed a implementation group within the ministry for monitoring.


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