Last month, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had issued its recommendations on unified licenses framework. The recommendations say there should be three levels of unified licenses: national level, service area level and district level. One-time non-refundable entry fees recommended for the three levels are Rs 15 crore, Rs 1 crore and Rs 10 lakh, respectively, excepting service areas of J&K and Northeast.
What do the district-level recommendations say? TRAI notes that a huge digital divide exists between rural and urban areas. This limits the capability of population in the deprived regions in using the information and communications technologies like the broadband.
The document then argues that a national or a circle level operator would have a dispersed focus and cannot plan with same intensity for each and every district. A district level licensee, on the other hand, could focus on spreading services all over the district. Studies have shown that nearly 70 percent of the outgoing traffic from rural areas is meant for a destination within the district, it notes.
While the spirit behind the district level recommendations is positive, the underlying hypothesis that a district level licensee would “focus on spreading services all over the district” is not good enough. In fact, it is more likely that such licensees would focus on the urban centers within the districts that are already well covered by various national service providers. That would defeat the intent behind the recommendations, i.e. of bridging the digital divide between urban and rural areas.
For the recommendation to be truly effective in bridging the urban-rural divide, the district level licenses may be made specific to the rural and semi-urban areas within the districts. License fees in cases may be made nominal or even nil, to promote development of, say broadband, in the more underdeveloped areas.
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