Government hopes to bring new telecom policy in next Parliament session

Economic Times, March 20, 2018

Telecom minister Manoj Sinha has said the new National Telecom Policy (NTP) is almost ready and will be brought in the next session of Parliament after a Cabinet nod and comments from the public.

Speaking on the sidelines of an industry event Tuesday, Sinha added the recent approval to the telecom relief package — that entails giving more time to companies to pay for the spectrum they bought as well as liberalised spectrum holding caps — from the Cabinet, will ensure that sector continues to grow strongly.

“The new telecom policy is almost ready, and, this month, we will place it on the Department’s website for public comments. We will bring it in the next session of Parliament,” Sinha said.

“The telecom sector has enjoyed a successful history and this will ensure that the success continues and that India continues to get good connectivity,” the telecom minister said, when asked about the official approval to the telecom relief package that came in last week.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has amended the licence norms, as per which carriers have a one-time option of making payments for the spectrum they purchased in auctions between 2012 and 2016, in a staggered manner across 16 years, instead of the 10 years before. There’s no change in the moratorium period of two years after making the first tranche of the full payment.

The DoT has also amended the licensing rules to increase a telco’s overall spectrum holding limit to 35% from 25% earlier. Till date, government rules barred a merged telco from holding over 25% of spectrum allocated in a circle, and over 50% in a particular band. It has also scrapped the earlier 50% cap on intra-band airwaves of carriers, but imposed a fresh 50% limit on a telco’s combined airwave holdings in sub-1GHz bands, including 700 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz.

The extension in the deferred payments tenure, which will give the government an extra Rs 74,446 crore till 2034-35, is aimed at boosting the health of the beleaguered telecom industry that is saddled with nearly Rs 8 lakh-crore of debt and has seen a plunge in revenues and profits amid continuing price wars.

Easing of spectrum holding caps, in turn, will help in the ongoing consolidation in the sector as several companies are undergoing mergers and acquisitions. Vodafone India and Idea Cellular merged entity would be saved from surrendering or selling spectrum in seven circles — five circles in the 900 Mhz band, and two in 2500 Mhz band — thanks to the new rules, while Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio will also benefit.

Telenor, Tikona Wireless and Tata Teleservices are merging their businesses with Bharti Airtel, while Reliance Jio is in the process of buying wireless assets including spectrum and towers of troubled carrier Reliance Communications — with the deal valued at nearly Rs 25,000 crore.

Besides relief to the sector, the government is also preparing for the next generation of networks, better connectivity and services, through NTP 2018, the ground work for which has been done over the past year.

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