Manoj Sinha takes charge of the telecom ministry in the midst of growing challenges and crucial issues of spectrum, call drops being endlessly debated with top telecom houses like Bharti Airtel, Reliance, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, among others.
The biggest-ever spectrum auction is round the corner, seeking Rs.64,000 crore for the government, with a revenue of Rs.98,995 crore from various levies and services. Sinha, hence, urgently needs to address the Spectrum Usage Charge (SUC) issue concerning upcoming spectrum auctions.
Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) is keen on bringing down the SUC to 1% of annual revenue before the auction. Cabinet, during the approval of 2016 spectrum auction, deferred a decision on SUC and asked Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to look into the matter. Telecom Ministry had recommended for a 3% of revenue SUC for the upcoming auctions, which was sent back by the Cabinet for TRAI’s suggestions. As a telecom minister, Sinha is expected to take into consideration the TRAI and attorney general’s views as well as the requirements of telecom operators.
Although the issue of spectrum shortage has been addressed by former minister Ravi Shankar Prasad by allowing spectrum sharing and trading among the operators, pricing, especially high reserve price of new bands to be auctioned, remains a concern. Telcos have expressed their concern with regards to the reserve price for 700 MHz, to be sold for the first time, at Rs 11,485 crore a unit. Crisil has predicted that India’s telecom operators are likely to fork out Rs 1 trillion (Rs 1 lakh crore) to buy spectrum at the forthcoming auction. These issues put spectrum auctions at the top of Sinha’s priority list as it will be a challenge for the telecom ministry to ensure robust bids.
Apart from spectrum auctions, the call drop issue has been lingering over for more than a year. Telecom Ministry, supporting TRAI, had entered into a row with the telecom operators, warning telcos over penalties in case of non-compliance with the regulations. Conducting test drives and taking constructive decisions to reduce call drop menace will be one of the top priorities for Sinha.
With the entry of Reliance in the telecom space, telcos have become aggressive with regards to the services and offers being made to the customers. Sinha needs to keep a check on the growing competition and pricing war among the operators as well as address the issue of net neutrality.
Revival of BSNL, initiated by former minister Prasad, is yet another matter of concern for Sinha. Other major challenges include implementation of BharatNet initiative, envisaged to deliver broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats.
As a telecom minister, Sinha also takes responsibility of the postal department that is preparing to start payment banks to bring the rural population under the formal banking system.