While independent India turns 65 this August 15, the tele-density in the country hovers around a massive 80 percent. In fact, going by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) numbers, it stood at 79.58 percent in June 2012, which is a phenomenal progress compared to the tele-density of 0.8 in 1994 before the telecom sector was liberalized.
Even then, ‘telecom inclusion’ is far from realized, as envisaged by the two telecom policies of 1994 and 1999. While the urban tele-density stood at a whopping 169.03 percent, the rural tele-density was still far behind at 40.66 percent, shows TRAI data.
Yes, the rural tele-density has gradually increased over a period of time and so has the share of rural subscribers in the overall telecom subscriber base, but there still is a yawning gap between the urban and rural tele-densities. Also, while there is no collected data, just like the urban-rural divide there also exists a wide APL-BPL divide in telecom.
What could be a way out? Is doling out a few million handsets to the BPL families the answer, as the government is prepping for? Do sops really empower people?
Just as learning to form a signature doesn’t make a person literate, possessing a phone can’t make a BPL family telecom-empowered too. It is the ability to make and receive call on that phone that brings empowerment. And some start-up free talk time is not going to serve the purpose in the long run.
However, if the higher cost of future 2G spectrum leads to higher telecom tariffs too, as is being argued and acknowledged, wouldn’t that significantly raise the entry barrier for a BPL family? Of what good would the devices be to the families in that case?

A “har haath mein phone” scheme looks much in contradiction with the reserve price of Rs 14,000 crore determined for 2G band, and vice versa. Reciprocation between the two would be desirable instead.
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