Spectrum is now a dirty word in India, after the 2G scandal gave the country its biggest political scam yet, landing political leaders and corporate leaders alike in prison.
Last week, communications minister Kapil Sibal released the draft of a new telecom policy that aims to change the game and make it better. Somehow, my apprehensions have not gone.
The proposed policy aims to allow sharing and trading of spectrum between telecom operators and envisages sale of spectrum through market-linked processes, including auctions. The policy also plans a new spectrum law and also spectrum audits.
Great to hear all that. But the process needs to be made fool-proof to prevent manipulative spectrum traders from gaining the upper hand because India is historically famous for hoarders – be it in rice, cement or spectrum.
We also have had FM radio frequency auctions in which operators bid high and later complained of business viability. That kind of a situation also needs to be avoided.
After the socialistic approach under which 2G spectrum was offered cheap ostensibly to boost mobile service penetration, there is still a policy emphasis on “affordability.”
There has to be wide stakeholder consultations to avoid the kind of mess created by the “first-come,first-served” regime in 2G spectrum. The telecom regulator, the Indian Space Research Organisation, economists, technical experts, non-governmental groups and business organisations need to be involved to ensure that no point is missed.
If the Prime Minister’s Office is any wiser after the 2G scam, it should know that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is too small a player for such a big issue.