It’s been 11 years since the rollout of the New Telecom Policy, 1999, which had come five years after the National Telecom Policy of 1994. Also, seven years have elapsed since the Broadband Policy of 2004 came out.
While the two telecom policies helped drive mobile services growth of an unprecedented order, there has only been a limited achievement on the broadband front.
A new telecom policy is on the anvil, expectedly to address the evolved needs of a transforming industry and of a new generation of subscribers.
The market dynamics have changed much since the early days of telecom revolution in the country. Today, there are more than 10 mobile service providers in several telecom circles, compared to a mere four or five at a stage earlier. While this fiercely competitive marketplace has contributed towards bringing tariffs down, it has not helped to improve the quality of services or to address the consumer facing issues.
For the India telecom story to remain strong going forward, it is important to take care of the interests of the industry as well as those of the subscribers and the users. Will the policy be able to strike the necessary balance in this regard? Will the M&A and spectrum sharing frameworks be provisioning for that?
Telecom services market has largely been voice driven so far, despite the best intentions and efforts of policy makers and other stakeholders to increase data uptake, especially on the wireless front. It would be good to promote ecosystems that drive creation and demand for VAS applications and content that is suited for the needs of Indian consumers.
In the context of mobile VAS development, it would be important to not lose sight of the fact that more than 95 per cent of mobile service subscribers are prepaid subscribers and come from the middle and lower half of the country’s socioeconomic pyramid. Even simple applications like SMS have not really penetrated deep into many subscriber segments, because of insufficient literacy levels. Can simplified m-commerce applications like mobile wallets work across wider sets of users? Rural mobile banking could be another application area worth probing. Policy makers as well as industry stakeholders will benefit from deeper insights into the potential adoption and usage of select VAS applications.
While such applications are already being rolled out by telcos and VAS providers in pockets, a holistic push at the policy level could drive home larger benefits such as financial inclusion and empowerment, beyond just increased VAS adoption and usage.
(As published in Deccan Chronicle, July 7, 2011; header changed.)
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