Ravi Shankar Prasad has taken charge as the new communications minister. Soon after assuming office, he spelt out the key areas that he and his ministry would focus on. These include broadband, digital inclusion, public Wi-Fi, telecom equipment manufacturing, and emerging technologies like 5G.
Establishing a conducive ecosystem for 5G remains a key priority. In fact, the government is keen on making 5G a reality in India by 2020. It has set a 100-day timeline to conduct technology trials and auction commercial spectrum in the current calendar year.
The spectrum sale assumes strategic importance for the government as it will help the exchequer garner substantial revenues, almost to the tune of Rs 5 trillion. For operators however, funding this spectrum purchase with bleeding balance sheets will be a daunting task. Telcos have often stated that acquiring spectrum at exorbitant prices and paying high spectrum charges and licence fees have been partly responsible for the current financial upheaval in the sector.
To this end, the industry has been urging the government to slash the overall levies to 4-5 per cent to ease the financial burden on the stressed telecom sector. At the present 30 per cent level, India’s telecom levies are the highest in the world. However, neither the 2018 budget nor the interim budget in early 2019 had offered any major concessions to the telecom sector.
With a new leadership in place, the industry is now hoping that the budget in early July will usher in the much-needed financial reforms. While Prasad has been vocal about talking to industry stakeholders to understand and address their issues, it is critical that such talks transform into concrete policy action.
For now, all eyes are on the upcoming budget, with hopes pinned on incentives to help the debt-laden sector on its journey of recovery.