Still some time for fresh round of spectrum auctions: Ravi Shankar Prasad

RAVI SHANKAR PRASAD, Minister for Communications and IT

New Delhi, December 14





Whether it is turnaround of the state-run BSNL or India Post, dealing with the issue of call drops or auction of spectrum, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Communications and IT, has seen it all in the year and half he has spent in the Ministry.

But, Prasad says still lot has to been done. In an interview with BusinessLine, Prasad shares his views on the sector and the challenges ahead. Excerpts:

How far has the BharatNet progressed?

When I assumed office 2014, the Optical Fibre Cable pipe that had been laid was 2,292 km and optical fibre laid was 358 km. As on December 13, pipe laid is 1,06,721 km and the optical fibre laid is 78,132 km across the country.

It has been completed in Kerala, Chandigarh and Puducherry. Tender has been finalised for 2,438 blocks consisting of 81,774 gram panchayats and they are coming up very shortly.

We are trying our best meet the deadline (2017). The expert committee had suggested involving the State governments. Today, 18 States have shown interest. This is being done through special purpose vehicle (SPV) model.

There has been a lot of work going around with the Postal Department too…

I have been insisting India Post to explore more areas and the most exciting has been the e-commerce where they have done a business of ₹970 crore till date and most of them are from small towns (around 60-65 per cent) based on cash-on-delivery mechanism. The parcel revenue had registered a decline of two per cent in 2013-14, which registered a 37 per cent growth in 2014-15 and 117 per cent growth till October 31 this year.

We are also working on payment banks and lot of international banks (23 companies) have shown interest to working together with India Post. We will be giving handheld devices to all the rural post offices from early next year for payments.

Have you taken a view on BSNL, MTNL merger?

My first and foremost focus is to make them healthy. I have requested their Boards to look into the synergies. For fair competition, the presence of a vibrant PSU is important in the field.

You have been involved with activities of common service centres (CSCs). What is the update on that?

As of now, we have got 1.44 lakh CSCs. I have asked them to scale it up to two-lakh and also asked them to convert the 1.25 rural Post Offices into CSCs. The banking correspondents of CSCs have risen from 11,244 to 27,652 and they are making transactions worth around ₹1.36 crore every day. They are also collecting premiums of 15 insurance companies at an average of ₹70 lakh per day.

Dealing with call drops has not been easy. How far have you succeeded?

The telecom operators need to recognise that a good quality of service is integral to their credibility. They need to do three things – properly reconfigure their network, spend on infrastructure, and ought not to sacrifice on voice for the more lucrative data.

As far as I am concerned, we have done everything on the policy front. Only pending was Defence band, which is being finalised. I have also spoken publicly on radiation issue. The government premises and buildings have been made available for installing towers. But, the ultimate job of establishing, finding and reinforcing the infrastructure should be done by the operators.

But, their concern is more investment means higher tariffs for consumers, which is not healthy…

Should I presume that they are very keen to have new customers in bulk and ignore the existing ones in terms of quality of service? That is not fair. It is for them to make a call on what kind of tariff they can provide depending on the market conditions, we don’t interfere. Tariff comes from the TRAI, but every time saying spectrum is short, they talk of tariff and when they declare their quarterly results, it is very encouraging.

I am happy that they are investing, but the obligation to reinforce the network is primarily theirs. What is important is become proactive and deliver. It is primarily their responsibility. If we can revive BSNL in a short period why can’t they do it for themselves?

What about spectrum cap issue? Will the next spectrum auction happen on time?

TRAI presently has not agreed to open it. But, as far as the assigned spectrum is concerned, the Telecom Commission has taken a view on much can be used and I fully agree with that.

There are still some time for spectrum auction and some processes need to be worked out by TRAI and the Department.

Any update on Net neutrality policy?

I have to await TRAI report because that is the legal requirement.

Published on December 14, 2015

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