The Indian telecom sector has come under the spotlight recently with increasing number of consumers complaining about frequent call drops, poor connectivity and less-than-promised broadband speeds. Nudging private operators to improve services, communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tells HT that the government is concerned about the issue since growth of broadband has direct link to GDP growth. Excerpts.
How are you going to ensure the quality of service for broadband?
I am concerned and worried about the decline in the quality of services of not only broadband, but telecom services of private operators. It is my gentle request and warning to private operators to improve service quality. This is the agony of consumers that I am conveying to them. I have also asked concerned officials in the ministry to look into the issue and convey the measures they need to take. I am aware that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is the body to examine the issue, but as the representative of the people and the minister of the sector, I am equally accountable to consumers of telecom services. The government is concerned about the quality, since growth of broadband has direct link to GDP growth.
What about BSNL and MTNL?
I have already told both companies to improve their services. But, I must add, during the last six to seven years both public sector companies have been given step-motherly treatment.
What has been your major concern as telecom minister?
The first and foremost concern of the government has been to digitally empower the people of India. Indians have great fondness for technology. That is why 900 million cellphone and 3,000 million internet connections have grown despite legacies and bottlenecks, which some feel have been created by the government. This government is committed to ensure that telecom and information technology (IT) reaches the masses.
Has IT delivered what it could to Indians?
Certainly, but there is huge untapped potential. The IT sector generates more than $1 billion in annual turnover and provides employment to 1 million people directly and another 30 million indirectly. We in the ministry are taking efforts to ensure that with such a platform, the gap should be filled between the digitally haves and have-nots.
But infrastructure is still bad for such a big project…
True, but with the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), we can achieve it faster. We will create an enabling atmosphere for any one (operator/institution) to plug in and pay as they use. It is more for the poor and less for the empowered. There is scope for private operators to participate in this mission. Public sector companies — MTNL, GAIL, RAILTEL and PGCIL are also working on this project. We are also exploring new models. Many states have agreed to take the connection to remote parts from this network, especially for the supply of content and application over the broadband. NOFN will play a major catalyst to enhance e-commerce in rural areas.