Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre, Union Minister of State for Communications, Education and Electronics and Information technology

The telecom sector has become crucial for the functioning of the digital economy. In view of this, the government has started implementing critical reforms to support the deployment of telecom infrastructure as part of its Digital India initiative. At a recent curtain-raiser event announcing the fourth edition of the India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2020, Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre, union minister of state for communications, education and electronics and information technology, talked about India’s changing digital landscape and the role of the telecom industry in making the government’s Digital India vision a reality. Edited excerpts…

This year’s theme for the IMC is inclusive innovation. Communications solutions must be smart, secure, innovative, inclusive and sustainable. These solutions must try to address our vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Under the leadership of our prime minister, who started the journey of Digital India six years ago, the telecom sector has seen tremendous growth. The creation of robust telecommunication infrastructure has fuelled the digital ecosystem and economy. Base transceiver stations have seen a staggering growth of 220 per cent since 2014. Further, broadband penetration has increased manyfold. Data and smartphones have become cheaper, leading to massive data consumption and opening up of new opportunities in the field of data analytics.

India has now emerged as the second largest manufacturer of mobile phones in the world. It is also one of the biggest mobile markets in the world. Today, mobile telephony has reached all corners of the country. Innovative youth in the country have used this opportunity to start the most vibrant start-up ecosystem in the world and the number of unicorns has grown sharply.

Key policy reforms and initiatives in the sector have facilitated the creation of infrastructure and investment. This has led to the social and economic growth of all citizens, improved digital connectivity, near universal coverage of telecom services, and spectrum availability. Financial inclusion is the key component of the prime minister-led governance model. The sector has played and will play an important role in it. Mobile has now emerged as the main platform for internet access in India. Reforms are being made to address the digital divide by extending inclusive internet access to every Indian as mobile technology aims to empower the masses and become the critical means of accessing a broad range of public services.

Covid-19 has thrown up many challenges but the telecom industry has proved its mettle by supporting the countrymen in a big way. We should look to turn these challenges into opportunities. Work-from-home and online education have been adopted in a massive way. This has increased the requirement of reliable, affordable and quality internet in every corner of the country, including rural areas. Our rural areas need unfailing connectivity. The requirement of digital gadgets has also increased. These challenges are actually a good opportunity for our industries, partners and stakeholders. Our government is also continuously supporting this sector. The new guidelines for other service providers (OSPs) have eliminated the registration requirement for OSPs. This will boost the IT/ITeS and BPO industry across India.

To realise the vision of Digital India and universal connectivity, on August 15, 2020, the prime minister announced that optical fibre cable (OFC) connectivity will be provided to all 600,000 villages within 1,000 days. A number of rural connectivity projects are under implementation through government funding. Under the BharatNet project, we are providing connectivity to all 250,000 gram panchayats (GPs), with about 147,000 GPs already connected, along with around 86,000

Wi-Fi hotspots and 450,000 fibre-to-the-home optical high-speed broadband connections. Further, in north-eastern India, hilly, forested tracks are being connected. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands have also been connected through submarine OFC with very high speed bandwidth.

The government attaches high priority to the development of software products, and telecom and electronics hardware manufacturing. Initiatives like the IMC will help achieve this in a significant way. Atmanirbhar Bharat, Make in India and Make for World are our mantras. We firmly believe that IMC 2020 will be a showcase for technology-driven initiatives as it brings together all stakeholders in the telecommunications industry and provides the right forum for valuable discourse on key topics. The IMC is one such platform, where the efforts of the government and the telecommunications industry are showcased to not just our country but the world at large. It is also a great opportunity for us to showcase the digital transformation of India, which has led to financial inclusion for the masses.