Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

[pib] India to co-chair of its ITU Digital Innovation Board

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

Mains level: NA

What is the news-

  • Neeraj Mittal, Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India was unanimously elected as co-chair of the Digital Innovation Board of International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

About ITU Digital Innovation Board

 

  • This board is established under the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance for Digital Development.
  • It comprises of Ministers and Vice Ministers of Telecom/ICT of 23 Member Countries.
  • The Alliance establishes the Board to provide strategic guidance, expertise and advocacy regarding its mission of building critical local enablers.

 

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance

 

  • ITU has started this Alliance to respond to significant unmet needs of ITU Membership in the area of innovation.
  • It is based on the Kigali Action Plan adopted at the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2022 (WTDC-22) and the Outcomes of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2022 (PP-22).
  • The Alliance has three main vehicles: –
  1.     Digital Transformation Lab
  2.     Network of Acceleration Centres
  3.     Digital Innovation Board

What is the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)?

  • The ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) responsible for issues related to information and communication technologies (ICTs).
  • It was established in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, making it one of the oldest international organizations.
  • In 1932, the organization was renamed the International Telecommunication Union to reflect its broader mandate.
  • It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Its functions include:
  1. Allocate global radio spectrum and satellite orbits,
  2. Develops the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and
  3. Strives to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide.

Membership:

  • ITU’s membership includes 193 member states (countries) and over 900 private sector entities, including telecommunications companies, equipment manufacturers, research institutions, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
  • India has been an active member of the ITU since 1869 and has been a regular member of the ITU Council since 1952.

PYQ:

2020: In India, the term “Public Key Infrastructure” is used in the context of

  1. Digital security infrastructure
  2. Food security infrastructure
  3. Healthcare and education infrastructure
  4. Telecommunication and transportation infrastructure

 

Practise MCQ:

The global telecom body International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has recently elected India as the co-chair of the Digital Innovation Board. Which of the following statements about ITU is/are correct?

  1. It is the United Nations specialised agency for Information and Communication Technologies.
  2. Its entry is open to all countries, Private Companies as well as institutions.
  3. India has been a member of ITU since 1869.

Select the correct option:

  1. All are correct
  2. Only 3
  3. 1 and 3
  4. 1 and 2

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Chakshu Platform launched against Spam Calls

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Chakshu Platform purpose

Mains level: NA

In the news

  • The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) introduced Chakshu, a new platform aimed at enabling telecom users to report fraud or spam callers.

Chakshu Platform

  • Chakshu (meaning eyes), accessible at sancharsaathi.gov.in/sfc, empowers citizens to proactively report suspicious communications, as announced by the DoT.
  • The government will collaborate with private firms like Truecaller to improve the functionality of the platform.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is also working on building an app for the ‘Chakshu’ platform.

Features of the platform

  • Reporting Options: Users can report various types of frauds, including those related to bank accounts, payment wallets, SIM cards, gas and electricity connections, KYC updates, impersonation, and sextortion.
  • Enhanced Reporting Mechanism: Chakshu offers a comprehensive mechanism for reporting fraudulent activities, ensuring that telecom users can address a wide range of concerns.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Under-Sea Cable Disruptions expose key Telecom Vulnerability

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Submarine Communication, Fiber Optics

Mains level: Implications of maritime crisis on Submarine Cable Infrastructure

In the news

  • Three undersea cables connecting India to global telecom networks—Asia-Africa-Europe-1, Europe India Gateway, and Tata Global Network—have been damaged in the Red Sea Conflict, possibly due to targeted attacks.

What are Submarine Communications Cable?

  • Submarine cables are laid on the seabed between land-based stations to transmit telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean and sea.
  • These cables employ fiber-optic technology, with optical fiber elements coated with protective layers suitable for the marine environment.
  • Submarine cables offer a reliable, cost-efficient, and high-capacity means of internet connectivity compared to satellites.

India’s Submarine Cable Infrastructure

  • With 17 submarine cables landing in 14 cable landing stations, mainly in Mumbai and Chennai, India is actively expanding its undersea connectivity.
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has introduced regulations categorizing Cable Landing Stations (CLS) into Main CLS and CLS Point of Presence to enhance data flow and reduce reliance on foreign providers.
  • TRAI’s recommendations also include recognizing submarine cable operations as critical services, proposing legislative amendments, and suggesting exemptions from custom duty and GST for essential goods.
  • Examples:
  1. MIST Submarine Cable System (connecting India with Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore)
  2. Reliance Jio Infocomm’s India Asia Xpress (IAX) (India to the Maldives, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand)
  3. India Europe Xpress (IEX) (India to Italy via Saudi Arabia and Greece)
  4. SeaMeWe-6 project (Singapore to France via India, Bangladesh, and Maldives)
  5. Africa2 Cable (connecting India with the UK via several African countries)

Vulnerabilities in Telecom Infrastructure

  • Ongoing Conflict’s Impact: Damage to undersea cable systems in the Red Sea due to regional conflict exposes vulnerabilities in India’s internet and overseas telecom connectivity.
  • Limited Connectivity: India’s relatively few connections to such cables and regulatory restrictions on expanding the submarine cable industry pose significant concerns.
  • Choke Points: Cable disruptions underscore a choke point in subsea connections between Europe and Asia, particularly concerning for India due to limited connections and regulatory constraints.

Current Challenges in Submarine Cable Infrastructure

  • Capacity Shortages: Rising demand from data centers, retail usage, and enterprise applications exacerbates capacity constraints in India’s submarine cable networks.
  • Opaque Ownership Structures: Lack of transparency in ownership of submarine cable systems raises national security concerns, particularly regarding the involvement of International Long Distance Operators (ILDOs).
  • Regulatory Constraints: Stringent regulations impede investment in submarine cable infrastructure, limiting redundancy and hindering security measures.

Implications of TRAI Proposals

  • Digital Transformation: TRAI’s recommendations align with India’s digital ambitions, facilitating the expansion of data centers and enhancing internet connectivity.
  • Balancing Act: DoT’s decision on TRAI’s proposals will shape the future of India’s submarine cable industry, balancing the interests of stakeholders and national security concerns.

Case Study: Australia’s Cable Protection Zone Regime

 

  • Legislative Framework: ACPZs established within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), offer a legislative model for protecting international submarine cables.
  • Regulatory Authority: The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) oversees the enforcement of protection measures within designated zones, ensuring compliance with stringent regulations.
  • Prohibited Activities: It restricts activities such as seabed trawling, vessel anchoring, and dredging within Cable Protection Zones, mitigating the risk of cable damage.

Way Forward

[A] Replicating Success in Indian Waters

  • Adopting Legislative Framework: India can collaborate with Australia to enact similar laws within its territorial waters, leveraging sovereign rights over submarine cables within the EEZ.
  • Establishing Protection Zones: Creation of Submarine Cable Protection Zones, consistent with UNCLOS provisions, enables India to enforce jurisdictional and physical safeguards.
  • Regional Cooperation: India can advocate for the adoption of Australia’s model legislation across the Indian Ocean Rim Association, fostering multilateral cooperation in protecting subsea infrastructure.

[B] Operational Implementation and Collaboration

  • Coordination Mechanisms: Collaboration among navies and coastguards of Quad nations and like-minded countries facilitates operational coordination in monitoring and protecting high-density cable zones.
  • Policy Alignment: Aligning domestic legislative frameworks with regional initiatives ensures seamless coordination and collective action in safeguarding submarine assets.
  • Reducing Risks: Enhanced cooperation minimizes the risk of cable damage and sabotage, bolstering connectivity and resilience in the Indian Ocean Region.

Conclusion

  • India stands at a pivotal juncture in safeguarding its subsea infrastructure amidst evolving geopolitical dynamics.
  • India must fortify its submarine cable assets, ensuring uninterrupted connectivity and advancing its digital aspirations.
  • Through proactive legislative measures and strategic collaboration, India can mitigate risks and emerge as a global leader in subsea infrastructure protection.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

[pib] Kochi-Lakshadweep Islands Submarine Optical Fiber Connection (KLI-SOFC) Project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: KLI-SOFC Project

Mains level: NA

kochi

Introduction

  • The Prime Minister has inaugurated Kochi-Lakshadweep islands submarine optical fiber connection (KLI-SOFC) project.

About KLI-SOFC Project

  • The KLI-SOFC project extends submarine cable connectivity from Kochi to eleven Lakshadweep Islands, including Kavaratti, Agatti, and Minicoy.
  • The project aims to provide high-speed wireline broadband connectivity through FTTH and 5G/4G Mobile networks to the Lakshadweep Islands population.
  • Funded by the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF), Department of Telecommunication.
  • The total link distance of the project is 1,868 kms.
  • Implementing agencies include BSNL as the Project Executing Agency and M/s NEC Corporation India Pvt Ltd for contract work.

Benefits of the Project

  • Contributes to ‘Digital India’ and ‘National Broadband Mission’, enabling e-governance projects in Lakshadweep.
  • Boosts E-Governance, Tourism, Education, Health, Commerce, and Industries, potentially improving living standards and accelerating social and economic development.
  • The bandwidth created will be available to all Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) to enhance telecom services in the Lakshadweep Islands.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Direct-to-Mobile (D2M) Technology in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Direct-to-Mobile (D2M) Technology

Mains level: Read the attached story

Direct-to-Mobile (D2M)

Introduction

  • The Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC) has identified significant challenges in implementing direct-to-mobile (D2M) technology, which allows streaming TV content directly to mobile phones without an internet connection.
  • The proposal for D2M has faced opposition from technology companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, and telecom operators.

About Direct-to-Mobile (D2M) Technology

  • Direct-to-mobile (D2M) technology is a method of transmitting content directly to mobile devices using broadcast signals. Here are the key points to understand about D2M technology:
  • D2M uses broadcast networks, similar to those for TV and radio, to send content directly to mobile devices, bypassing traditional cellular or internet data networks.
  • This technology is efficient for delivering the same content to many users simultaneously, reducing the load on cellular networks and making it ideal for live events or popular broadcasts.
  • Mobile devices need to be equipped with specific hardware to receive and decode broadcast signals, which may require new standards in smartphone manufacturing.
  • D2M can offer high-quality video and audio streaming, as it doesn’t depend on the variable speed and stability of an internet connection.

Key Challenges Identified by TEC

  • Integration Issues: Integrating smartphones with D2M and digital terrestrial TV to mobile devices (DTT2M) technologies is a major challenge.
  • Infrastructure Requirements: Implementing technologies like Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) 3.0 (NextGen TV) may necessitate a new nationwide network for indoor coverage, adding complexity.
  • Increased Costs: The adoption of D2M technology could lead to higher costs for smartphone manufacturers and, consequently, higher phone prices.
  • Ecosystem and Viability Concerns: Challenges include the availability of a handset ecosystem, scalability, business viability, and spectrum requirements.

TEC’s Report and Consultation Findings

  • Device Ecosystem: Success in adopting D2M technology hinges on enabling service on mobile devices, particularly smartphones or tablets, and creating an open-market, low-cost device ecosystem.
  • Need for Compatible Standards: A standard compatible with existing mobile handsets is essential for cost-effectiveness and leveraging the existing ecosystem.
  • Offloading Broadcasting Traffic: The standard should facilitate offloading broadcasting traffic over phones and guide the design and manufacture of smartphones for direct broadcast signal reception.

Government’s Intent and Potential Uses of D2M

  • Convergence of Services: The government aims to explore the convergence of broadcasting and broadband services through D2M technology.
  • Direct Broadcasting Benefits: Users could receive terrestrial digital TV content on handsets, similar to FM radio. The technology could broadcast emergency alerts, public safety messages, and social services.
  • Traffic Offloading: Telcos could offload video content to broadcasting networks, reducing network congestion.

Global Context and Trials

  • Lack of Available Devices: Currently, no mobile devices support these broadcasting technologies or standards globally.
  • International Trials: Countries like the USA, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada are conducting trials for D2M technology.

Stakeholder Concerns and Consultation Feedback

  • Hasty Implementation Worries: Stakeholders expressed concerns about the government’s rushed approach to implementing a technology still in its early stages.
  • Telcos’ Revenue Concerns: Telecom operators are apprehensive about potential revenue losses from their data business if mobiles pick up signals from D2M technology.

Conclusion

  • Critical Factors: The success of D2M in India will depend on the development of a device ecosystem and the ability to broadcast to a vast number of open-market mobile devices.
  • Navigating Implementation Challenges: Addressing the identified challenges and considering stakeholder concerns will be crucial in determining the feasibility and success of D2M technology in India.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

How Centre plans to regulate Content on OTT and Digital Media?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: OTT Regulation

Mains level: Read the attached story

ott

Central Idea

  • The Centre’s new draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, aims to revamp the regulatory framework for the broadcasting sector in India.
  • The Bill extends regulatory oversight from conventional television services to OTT platforms, digital content, and emerging technologies.

Key Provisions of the Draft Bill

  • Single Legal Framework: The Bill seeks to establish a unified legal structure for various broadcasting services, replacing the three-decade-old Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act.
  • Mandatory Registration and Self-Regulation: It introduces mandatory registration for broadcasting services, the creation of content evaluation committees for self-regulation, and establishment of programme and advertisement codes.
  • Three-Tier Regulatory Mechanism: The Bill proposes a three-tier regulatory structure, including self-regulation by broadcasters, self-regulatory organizations, and a Broadcast Advisory Council.

Government’s Objectives and Concerns Raised

  • Ease of Doing Business: The government claims the Bill will enhance ease of doing business and update the regulatory framework to match the sector’s evolving needs.
  • Freedom of Speech Concerns: However, there are apprehensions about potential censorship and infringement on freedom of speech, especially for digital media.

Specifics of the Draft Bill

  • Intimation of Operations: The Bill requires formal registration or intimation to the government for broadcasting services, with exceptions for entities like Prasar Bharati.
  • Modern Broadcasting Definitions: It includes definitions for broadcasting, broadcasting networks, and network operators, encompassing internet broadcasting networks like IPTV and OTT services.
  • Content Quality and Accessibility: Broadcasters must adhere to yet-to-be-defined Programme and Advertisement Codes and classify their content for viewer discretion. The Bill also emphasizes accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Self-Regulation and Government Oversight

  • Content Evaluation Committees: Broadcasters must establish committees with diverse representation for content certification, except for shows exempted by the government.
  • Broadcast Advisory Council: An advisory council will oversee regulation implementation, with the power to make recommendations to the government.

Inspection, Seizure, and Penalties

  • Inspection Rights: The Centre and authorized officers can inspect broadcasting networks and services, raising concerns about government overreach.
  • Penalties for Non-Compliance: The Bill includes penalties like removal of shows, apologies, off-air periods, or cancellation of registration for non-compliance.

Concerns and Critiques

  • Digital Rights and Free Speech: Organizations like the Internet Freedom Foundation express concerns about the Bill’s impact on online free speech and creative expression.
  • Ambiguity and Rule-Making: The Bill’s numerous instances of “as may be prescribed” or “as notified by the Government” create uncertainty for stakeholders.
  • Impact on Digital Platforms: Experts highlight the need for careful consideration of the Bill’s impact on online content creators and the digital space’s dynamism.

Conclusion

  • The bill, represents a significant shift in India’s broadcasting sector regulation, aiming to encompass modern digital platforms while raising critical questions about content regulation, freedom of expression, and government oversight.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Private: Will the New Telecom Bill streamline the sector?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Telecommunications Bill, 2023

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • Legislative Update: The Telecommunications Bill, 2023, was recently passed in Parliament, awaiting the President’s assent.
  • Objective: The Bill aims to modernize and consolidate laws governing telecommunications, replacing three older acts.

Overview of the Telecommunications Bill, 2023

  • Scope and Provisions: The Bill covers authorization of networks and services, spectrum allocation, right of way for infrastructure, and emergency government measures.
  • Consumer Protection: It includes provisions like a ‘Do Not Disturb’ register to protect consumers from unsolicited messages.
  • Definition of Telecommunication: The Bill broadly defines telecommunication to include various digital communication services, impacting internet apps in India.
  • Shift to Authorization Regime: It moves from a licensing to an authorization regime, requiring all telecommunication services to obtain government authorization.

Concerns and Criticisms of the Bill

  • Surveillance and Privacy Issues: Critics argue that the Bill enables mass surveillance and internet shutdowns, with contentious clauses around user identification and biometric verification.
  • Emergency Powers: Chapter IV grants the government extensive emergency powers, raising concerns about potential misuse for surveillance and message interception.
  • Encryption Standards: The government’s authority to set standards for encryption and data processing has sparked fears over weakening encryption and privacy.
  • Historical Context: The government’s interest in encryption standards is viewed against the backdrop of controversies like the Pegasus spyware scandal.

Industry Reception of the Bill

  • Support from Telecom Associations: Organizations like DIPA and the Cellular Operators’ Association of India have praised the Bill for standardizing ‘right of way’ rules and reducing tax burdens.
  • Satellite Communication Sector’s Approval: The Indian Space Association has welcomed the spectrum allocation provisions for satellite-based networks.
  • International Concerns: Groups like the Signal Foundation and Internet Freedom Foundation have expressed concerns over surveillance capabilities and the impact on encryption standards.

Debate Over Internet Suspension Authority

  • Lack of Procedural Safeguards: The Bill’s provision to suspend internet services has been criticized for not incorporating safeguards recommended by the Supreme Court and Parliamentary Committees.
  • Human Rights and Trust Issues: There are fears that these measures could undermine human rights and trust in digital services in India.

Conclusion

  • Demand for Withdrawal: Various groups have called for the withdrawal of the Bill in its current form, citing concerns over privacy, human rights, and digital trust.
  • Need for Balanced Approach: The Bill’s passage highlights the need for a balanced approach that ensures technological advancement and national security while safeguarding privacy and human rights.
  • Future Outlook: The ongoing debate suggests a need for further discussion and potential amendments to address the concerns raised by various stakeholders.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Telecom law upgrades for a digital authoritarian state

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Universal Services Obligation Fund.

Mains level: passage of the Telecommunications Bill, 2023, and the repeal of The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885

bill: Key features of the Telecommunication Bill, 2023 - The Economic Times

Central idea 

The article critiques the recently passed Telecom Bill, emphasizing its nationalistic undertones, potential authoritarian features, and the failure to address the digital divide effectively. It questions the rushed parliamentary process and highlights concerns about corporate favoritism, symbolized by the renaming of the Universal Services Obligation Fund.

Key Highlights:

  • The tweet by Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnav announces the passage of the Telecommunications Bill, 2023, and the repeal of The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
  • The use of the term “Bharat” instead of “India” and crediting the PM’s individual vision are intentional for cultural nativism.

Key Challenges:

  • The Telecom Bill is criticized for ignoring the persisting digital divide and lacking fresh ideas to address it.
  • Provisions favoring select private firms and potential misuse of regulatory power are highlighted.
  • State control and surveillance powers without defined safeguards raise concerns about privacy and freedom.

Key Terms and Phrases:

  • “Digital Bharat Nidhi”: Renaming of Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF) in the Telecom Bill.
  • “Regulatory sandboxes”: Provisions likely to benefit large corporations in the telecom sector.
  • “Authorisation” vs. “Licensing”: The change in terminology with increased severity in the Telecom Act.

Key Quotes:

  • “Bharat moves on…” – Tweet by Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnav.
  • “Guess who will soon step into Mobile Satellite Services from India?” – MP Priyanka Chaturvedi on potential favoritism towards private firms.

Key Statements:

  • The Telecom Bill is criticized for distracting from the digital divide issue and lacking innovative solutions.
  • Concerns raised about potential misuse of regulatory powers and selective favoritism toward private corporations.

Key Examples and References:

  • Mention of the renaming of USOF as “Digital Bharat Nidhi” in the Telecom Bill.
  • Reference to the allocation of satellite spectrum benefiting the Adani Group.

Key Facts and Data:

  • Stagnation in new telecom users and contraction in smartphone sales, as reported by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and International Data Corporation.
  • A legal penalty of ₹25,000 for providing false particulars or failing to share information as required by the Telecom Act.

Critical Analysis:

  • The Telecom Bill is criticized for maintaining colonial architecture, vague definitions, and potential threats to privacy.
  • The rushed passage of the bill without addressing raised concerns reflects an unconstitutional concentration of power.

Way Forward:

  • Advocate for a thorough review of the Telecom Bill by a Standing Committee to address concerns.
  • Emphasize the need for policies that genuinely bridge the digital divide and promote fair competition in the telecom sector.
  • Encourage transparency, public participation, and safeguards to protect individual rights in telecommunications legislation.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Telecommunications Bill, 2023: Emphasizing National Security and Regulatory Framework

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Telecommunications Bill, 2023

Mains level: Not Much

Telecommunications Bill, 2023

Central Idea

  • The Telecommunications Bill, 2023, was introduced in the Lok Sabha focusing on the development and regulation of telecommunication services and networks.
  • The Bill aims to consolidate existing laws and adapt to the evolving nature of telecommunications, emphasizing national security and inclusive digital growth.

Telecommunications Bill, 2023

  • Replaces Existing Acts: The Bill seeks to replace the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
  • Focus on Modernization: Recognizing the significant changes in telecommunication technologies and usage, the Bill proposes a contemporary legal framework for the sector.

National Security Provisions in the Telecom Bill

  • Government Control in Emergencies: The Bill allows the government to temporarily take control of telecom services during public emergencies or for public safety.
  • Interception and Priority Routing: It provides mechanisms for intercepting messages or routing specific messages on priority in the interest of national security, public order, and other key areas.
  • Press Message Regulations: The Bill stipulates conditions under which press messages may be intercepted, detained, or prohibited from transmission.
  • Government Directives for Message Transmission: The government can direct telecom services to transmit specific messages in the public interest.

Implications and Significance

  • Enhanced Security Measures: The Bill’s provisions for government intervention in telecom services during emergencies highlight a focus on national security and public safety.
  • Balancing Security and Freedom: While ensuring security, the Bill also acknowledges the need to safeguard press freedom, with specific rules for accredited correspondents.
  • Modern Regulatory Framework: By replacing outdated laws, the Bill aims to create a regulatory environment that aligns with current technological advancements and societal needs.

Conclusion

  • Adapting to Changing Dynamics: The Telecommunications Bill, 2023, represents a significant step in updating India’s legal framework for telecommunications, keeping pace with global technological trends.
  • Focus on National Security: The emphasis on national security and public safety within the Bill reflects the government’s commitment to ensuring a secure and resilient telecommunications infrastructure.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Rajya Sabha passes Post Office Bill  

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Post Office Bill

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • Rajya Sabha passed the Post Office Bill, which repeals and replaces the Post Office Act of 1898.
  • The 1898 Act has seen significant amendment proposals over the years, including the 1986 Bill for aligning interception grounds with constitutional restrictions, which was not assented to by the President.

Post Office Bill, 2023: Key Features

  • Removal of Exclusive Privileges: The Bill removes the central government’s exclusive privilege over conveying letters, a significant shift from the 1898 Act.
  • Director General’s Role: The Director General of Postal Services, appointed to head India Post, will have regulatory powers, including setting tariffs and regulating postage stamps.
  • Interception Powers: The government may intercept postal articles for reasons like state security, public order, and emergency, among others.
  • Liability Exemptions: India Post is exempted from liability regarding its services, with specific liabilities to be prescribed through Rules.
  • No Specified Offences and Penalties: The Bill does not define specific offences and penalties related to postal services, following the removal of all offences under the 1898 Act by the Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Act, 2023.

Key Issues and Analysis

  • Procedural Safeguards for Interception: The Bill lacks procedural safeguards for intercepting postal articles, potentially infringing on freedom of speech and privacy rights.
  • ‘Emergency’ as a Ground for Interception: The inclusion of ’emergency’ as a ground for interception may exceed reasonable constitutional restrictions.
  • Conflict of Interest in Liability: The central government’s role in prescribing liabilities for India Post could lead to a conflict of interest, as it also administers India Post.
  • Absence of Offences and Penalties: The lack of defined consequences for unauthorized actions by postal officers, such as opening postal articles, raises concerns for consumer privacy.

Comparative Analysis with Other Services

  • Differences with Private Courier Services: The Bill maintains distinct regulatory frameworks for public and private postal services, notably in interception provisions and consumer protection applicability.
  • Railway Claims Tribunal as a Contrast: Unlike the postal services, the Railway Claims Tribunal Act provides a clear mechanism for addressing grievances against the Indian Railways.

Concerns and Recommendations

  • Need for Clarity and Safeguards: The Bill should ideally include clear procedural safeguards for interception and specify consequences for violations by postal officers to protect individual rights.
  • Balancing Consumer Protection: Ensuring adequate consumer protection rights for India Post’s services is crucial, potentially through an independent mechanism similar to the Railway Claims Tribunal.
  • Addressing Privacy and Security: The Bill should balance the need for security with the protection of individual privacy, particularly in the context of postal article interception and officer conduct.

Conclusion

  • The Post Office Bill, 2023, represents a significant overhaul of India’s postal service regulation, aiming to modernize and adapt to contemporary needs.
  • However, it raises several critical issues, particularly concerning individual rights and the need for clear regulatory frameworks.
  • Addressing these concerns is essential to ensure that the Bill effectively serves its purpose while safeguarding fundamental rights and consumer interests.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

What is Vo5G (Voice over 5G)?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: VoLTE VO5G

Mains level: NA

Central Idea

  • India witnessed a significant improvement in call quality with the introduction of VoLTE (Voice over Long-Term Evolution) in 2016, offering clearer voice calls compared to 3G/2G networks.
  • With the advent of 5G in India, there’s growing anticipation for a new calling standard, Vo5G (Voice over 5G), already deployed in several countries.

What is Vo5G?

  • Definition: Vo5G, also known as Voice over New Radio (VoNR), is the next generation of voice calling, utilizing 5G networks for voice transmission.
  • Advantages: It leverages 5G’s speed, capacity, and responsiveness to enhance voice call quality.
  • Global Trend: While Vo5G is gaining traction globally, its adoption in countries like India is still in the nascent stages.

VoNR vs. VoLTE: The Advancements

  • Call Quality: VoNR offers superior call quality with advanced audio codecs, thanks to 5G’s higher bandwidth.
  • Connection Time: Reduced network latency in 5G ensures faster call connections with VoNR.
  • Reliability: VoNR promises better call continuity with lower packet loss, potentially reducing voice cut-outs.
  • Network Transition: VoNR aims to eliminate call drops experienced during the transition from 5G to 4G for VoLTE calls.

Requirements for Vo5G

  • Compatible Device: Users need a Vo5G-supported phone, typically available in models released after 2022 with 5G capabilities.
  • Carrier Support: A network provider that offers Vo5G services is essential, along with a plan that includes Vo5G calling.
  • 5G Coverage: Effective use of Vo5G requires being in an area with 5G network coverage.

VoNR in India

  • Availability: As of now, VoNR is not available in India, despite the ongoing 5G rollout in major cities.
  • Carrier Testing: Leading carriers like Reliance are reportedly testing VoNR for seamless integration with existing 4G and 5G networks.
  • Timeline: The exact timeline for VoNR’s widespread availability in India remains uncertain.

Try this question from CSP 2019:

Q.With reference to communication technologies, what is/are the difference/differences between LTE (Long-Term Evolution) and VoLTE (Voice over Long-Term Evolution)?

  1. LTE ‘is commonly marketed as 3G and VoLTE is commonly marketed as advanced 3G.
  2. LTE is data-only technology and VoLTE is voice-only technology.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Post your answers here.
2
Please leave a feedback on thisx

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I&B Ministry introduces draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023

Central Idea

  • The Information & Broadcasting Ministry recently unveiled the draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, a transformative legislation designed to modernize and streamline the broadcasting sector in India.
  • This bill presents a unified regulatory framework encompassing traditional broadcasting, OTT content, digital news, and current affairs.

Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023

Description
What is it about? – Replaces outdated laws, including the 1995 Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act.

– Extends regulatory oversight to emerging broadcasting technologies (OTT, Digital Media, DTH, IPTV).

Structure and Definitions – Comprises six chapters, 48 sections, and three schedules.

– Provides clear definitions for modern broadcasting terms and formally defines technical terms.

Self-Regulation and Advisory Bodies – Introduces “Content evaluation committees” for self-regulation within the broadcasting industry.

– Establishes the Broadcast Advisory Council to advise the government on program and advertisement code violations.

Penalties and Fairness – Operators and broadcasters may face penalties such as advisory warnings, censure, or monetary fines based on the seriousness of offenses.

– Imprisonment and fines are reserved for severe violations and are commensurate with the entity’s financial capacity.

Inclusivity for Disabilities – Promotes broadcasting accessibility for individuals with disabilities through subtitles, audio descriptors, and sign language.

– Provides for the appointment of a “Disability Grievance Officer” to address disabled individuals’ concerns.

Infrastructure Sharing and Dispute Resolution – Facilitates infrastructure sharing among broadcasting network operators.

– Streamlines the “Right of Way” section, improving efficiency in addressing relocation and alterations.

– Establishes a structured dispute resolution mechanism.

 

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Sanchar Saathi: Empowering Citizens

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Sanchar Saathi

Mains level: Not Much

Central Idea

  • Recent reforms in the Indian telecom sector target cybercrime and financial fraud prevention.
  • The reforms focus on revising bulk SIM card procurement norms and registering final points of sale (PoS).
  • The objective is to bolster the effectiveness of the citizen-centric portal Sanchar Saathi, initiated earlier for the same purpose.

Sanchar Saathi: Empowering Citizens

  • Sanchar Saathi empowers citizens to manage mobile connections and prevent misuse.
  • Users can verify their registered connections, block stolen or lost phones, report suspicious connections, and verify device authenticity using IMEI.
  • The system employs Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR) and Telecom Analytics for Fraud Management and Consumer Protection (TAFCOP) modules.
  • Sanchar Saathi has already analyzed 114 crore active mobile connections, identified 66 lakh suspicious connections, and disconnected 52 lakh connections.
  • Additional achievements include blocking 66,000 WhatsApp accounts and freezing 8 lakh bank/wallet accounts linked to fraud.
  • Over 300 FIRs have been filed against more than 1,700 dealers under the initiative.

Point of Sale (PoS) Reforms

  • Reforms mandate registration of SIM card franchisees, agents, and distributors (PoS) with telecom operators.
  • Operators are accountable for robust PoS verification, including mandatory police verification.
  • Written agreements between PoS and licensees for SIM card sales are now obligatory.
  • Existing SIM card providers are given a year to comply with the new registration process.
  • Non-compliance results in termination, a 3-year blacklist, and a Rs 10 lakh penalty.

Addressing Bulk SIM Card Misuse

  • The new approach replaces ‘bulk procurement’ with ‘business’ connections.
  • Businesses can procure numerous connections, but each end-user must undergo KYC.
  • KYC involves end-user verification, activating the SIM card only after successful KYC and address verification.
  • To prevent misuse of printed Aadhaar, demographic details must be captured by scanning the QR code.
  • Subscribers require full KYC for SIM replacement; outgoing and incoming SMS services are suspended for 24 hours during this process.
  • Biometric authentication options, including thumb impression, iris, and facial recognition, are introduced.
  • Disconnected mobile numbers cannot be assigned to other customers for 90 days.

Challenges and Considerations

  • Effective enforcement at the local level for smaller stores needs examination.
  • Concerns arise regarding infrastructure and safeguards for handling sensitive data.
  • Clarity on agent requirements for data acquisition, processing, and retention is necessary.
  • Despite Aadhaar-based KYC, persisting issues in fraud prevention need attention.
  • Data acquisition should strictly align with its intended purpose.

Conclusion

  • The telecom reforms aim to strengthen cybersecurity and financial safety.
  • Balancing effective data collection and privacy is essential.
  • Continuous vigilance and adaptation are vital to a robust cybersecurity framework.

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National Broadcasting Day 2023: How the Radio came to India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: National Broadcasting Day , AIR, Usha Mehta

Mains level: NA

radio

Central Idea

  • This July 23, commemorated 100 years of radio broadcast in India.
  • All India Radio (AIR) started broadcasting in 1923 via 2 private stations called the Radio Club of Bombay and Calcutta Radio Club.

Facts for Prelims: Usha Mehta’s Secret Radio

usha mehta radio

  • On August 8, 1942, the historic Quit India Resolution was passed during the All India Congress Committee meeting in Bombay.
  • In this response, the idea of an underground radio station, known by various names such as the Freedom Radio, the Ghost Radio, or the Congress Radio, was conceived to counter the British-controlled AIR.
  • Usha Mehta, a 22 YO master’s student at Wilson College, became the voice of the Congress Radio.
  • The radio was an expensive endeavour, but funds were procured through various means, including contributions from Mehta’s colleague, Babubhai Khakhar.
  • Radio engineering expert Nariman Abarbad Printer constructed the Congress Radio transmission set.
  • Their first broadcast was on 14 August 1942.
  • Welcome line in her voice: “This is the Congress Radio calling on 42.34 from somewhere in India.”
  • In the beginning, they were broadcasting twice a day, in Hindi and English. But they reduced it to just once in the evening between 7.30 and 8.30 pm.
  • On 12th November 1942, the police raided the radio while Vande Mataram was being played and arrested Mehta and others.
  • Mehta was conferred the Padma Vibhushan, one of India’s highest civilian honours in 1998.

About All India Radio

  • On July 23, 1927, the Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) was formed, but it faced liquidation within three years.
  • To revive the IBC, Lionel Fielden, a BBC producer, was appointed as the first Controller of Broadcasting in August 1935.
  • In June 1936, the Indian State Broadcasting Service (ISBS) transformed into All India Radio.
  • In August 1937, it became the Central News Organisation (CNO) under the Department of Information and Broadcasting.

Expansion and Name Change

  • In 1947, India had six radio stations, covering 2.5% of the area and 11% of the population. Pakistan had three radio stations.
  • In 1956, the name “AKASHVANI” was adopted as the National Broadcaster, used interchangeably with AIR, primarily for Hindi broadcasting.
  • The famous jingle of AIR was composed by Walter Kaufmann, who joined AIR in 1937 and significantly contributed to Indian music.

Current Status of AIR

  • Today, AIR has a network of around 260 radio stations, covering nearly 92% of the country’s total area and serving almost the entire population.
  • It broadcasts in 23 languages and 146 dialects, making it a broadcasting giant in India.

Controversies

  • Vividh Bharati Service: Launched in 1957, it included popular film music as a major component.
  • BV Keskar’s Ban on Film Music: In 1952, AIR imposed a ban on film music, causing Radio Ceylon to gain popularity among Hindi film music enthusiasts with shows like Geetmala.
  • Film Industry’s Response: The film industry withdrew music rights from AIR, leading to the absence of film music on the radio.

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TRAI suggests norms for Undersea Cables

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: India's Cable Projects

Mains level: Undersea Fibre Optic Cables

undersea cable

Central Idea

  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued recommendations on rules governing undersea cables connecting Indian telecom networks to the global internet.
  • These recommendations address concerns raised by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) regarding the participation of Indian firms in undersea cable projects and related regulatory clearances.

What are Undersea Cables?

  • Undersea cables, also known as submarine cables, are fiber optic strands enclosed in protective layers laid on the ocean floor.
  • They are essential for global connectivity, transmitting data and communication signals between continents and nations.
  • These cables form the backbone of international communications infrastructure, ensuring reliable internet connectivity and supporting seamless communication worldwide.
  • They play a pivotal role in facilitating collaboration, trade, and socio-cultural interactions on a global scale.

Key Recommendation by TRAI

(A) Ownership Requirements for Undersea Cables:

  • Proof of Ownership: TRAI recommends that all Indian telecom companies operating undersea cables must demonstrate ownership of the portion of cables located in Indian waters.
  • Significance: This requirement ensures that Indian firms have a stake in undersea cable infrastructure and fosters their active participation in global connectivity.

(B) Distinction between Cable Landing Stations and Points of Presence (PoPs):

  • Differentiation of Facilities: TRAI suggests distinguishing between cable landing stations and PoPs, which are further connected to the stations.
  • Regulatory Simplification: Owners of PoPs would be exempted from multiple clearance requirements but would need to comply with lawful interception regulations.
  • Significance: This differentiation streamlines the regulatory process for telecom companies and promotes ease of doing business.

(C) Allowance for Dark Fiber and Stubs:

  • Dark Fiber Usage: TRAI recommends permitting the use of dark fiber (unused optical fiber) on existing cable landing stations.
  • Use of Stubs: TRAI suggests allowing the installation of stubs, short cables in Indian waters, for potential future expansion and use.
  • Significance: Allowing dark fiber usage and stub installations enhances the flexibility and scalability of undersea cable infrastructure in India.

(D) Financial Viability Models for Repair Vessels

  • Commissioning Indian Flagged Ships: TRAI proposes that a government committee explore financial viability models for commissioning Indian flagged ships for the repair and maintenance of undersea cables.
  • Significance: This promotes indigenous capabilities and supports the growth of the domestic maritime industry.

(E) Domestic Traffic and Terrestrial Networks

  • Permission for Domestic Traffic: TRAI recommends explicitly permitting the carrying of domestic traffic on undersea cables, allowing for connectivity between domestic locations.
  • Extension through Terrestrial Networks: The regulator suggests enabling undersea cable systems to extend further inland through terrestrial networks to facilitate the flow of international traffic.
  • Significance: This improves efficiency and promotes seamless communication within India.

Critical Information Infrastructure Protection

  • Notification of Critical Infrastructure: TRAI proposes notifying undersea cables as critical information infrastructure, making them eligible for protection by the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC).
  • Significance: Recognizing undersea cables as critical infrastructure strengthens their security and safeguards against potential cyber threats.

India’s Cable Projects and Future Expansion

  • India-Asia Xpress (IAX) and India-Europe Xpress (IEX): Reliance Jio is leading these projects, connecting India to Singapore, the Persian Gulf, and Europe. The capacity is around 200 Tbps, with funding from a consortium including Facebook and Google.
  • MIST: This cable will link Mumbai and Cochin in India to Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. It has a capacity of 218 Tbps and is scheduled for operation in 2024.
  • Blue-Raman: Connecting Italy, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and India, this cable bypasses the Egyptian chokepoint. It has a capacity of over 200 Tbps and is funded by a consortium led by Google.
  • SEA-ME-WE 6: Upgrading the link from Singapore to Marseille, this cable spans 19,200 km with a capacity of 126 Tbps. It is scheduled to be operational in 2025 and involves a consortium of telecommunications companies.
  • 2 Africa Pearl: Extending from India and Pakistan, this cable orbits Africa, connecting 33 nations across three continents. It has a capacity of 180 Tbps and is funded by a consortium that includes Facebook and China Mobile.

India’s Significance in Undersea Connectivity

  • Growing digital economy: India’s rapidly expanding digital market and high data usage make it a significant consumer and provider of global data connectivity.
  • Strategic location: Situated at the crossroads of major regions, India serves as a vital link connecting Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East through undersea cable networks.
  • Technical expertise: India boasts a large pool of skilled professionals in the tech industry, enabling it to actively participate in the development, deployment, and maintenance of undersea cables.
  • Rising global influence: With its projected economic growth, population size, and geopolitical significance, India’s increasing influence positions it as a key player in shaping the future of undersea cable connectivity.
  • Connectivity expansion: India’s efforts to enhance domestic and international connectivity, coupled with its focus on improving infrastructure and regulatory frameworks, contribute to its importance in undersea cable networks.

Conclusion

  • TRAI’s recommendations on undersea cables aim to enhance the participation of Indian firms, simplify regulatory processes, and strengthen the security and efficiency of undersea cable infrastructure in India.
  • These recommendations promote the growth of the telecom industry and support the country’s digital connectivity goals.

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All India Radio (AIR) to be renamed Akashvani

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: All India Radio

Mains level: Not Much

radio

Central idea: The Centre has ordered that public broadcaster All India Radio (AIR) be exclusively referred to as Akashvani in all broadcasts and programmes.

All India Radio: Through history

  • The journey of radio broadcasting in India began with the first commercial transmission sent out by the Radio Club of Bombay in 1923.
  • In 1927, the Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) was established and in 1930, the Indian State Broadcasting Service (ISBS) was set up.
  • In 1936, ISBS was renamed as All India Radio (AIR).
  • At the time of Independence, AIR covered only two percent of India’s land area and reached just 11 percent of its population.
  • Today, AIR has a network of over 262 radio stations, covering 92% of India’s area and nearly all of its population.
  • It broadcasts in 23 languages and 146 dialects and also has an External Services Division which broadcasts in 11 Indian and 16 foreign languages, reaching out to more than 100 countries.
  • AIR’s News Services Division broadcasts 647 bulletins daily for a total duration of nearly 56 hours.
  • FM broadcasting began in 1977 in Chennai and today, AIR has 18 FM stereo channels.

Why the name change?

  • The order to exclusively refer to AIR as Akashvani is in line with the provisions of the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990, passed by Parliament.
  • Listeners have more of a connect with Akashvani and that the name change is in tune with the law which came into being in 1997.

Importance of AIR

  • AIR played a crucial role in communicating momentous events in India’s recent history, prior to the advent of television or digital media.
  • AIR’s place in history is cemented due to its role in broadcasting Jawaharlal Nehru’s iconic “Tryst with Destiny” speech in 1947 and Kapil Dev’s mythical 175 run knock in 1983, among other events.
  • For many Indians, the Akashvani jingle evokes nostalgia and memories of a bygone era when they woke up to the sounds of the jingle at the break of dawn and started their day with AIR programming.

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Bharat 6G project: India plans to roll out high-speed internet by 2030

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 6G Technology

Mains level: Read the attached story

6g

Central idea: Despite over 45,000 Indian villages lacking 4G connectivity and ongoing efforts to build out 5G networks, the Indian government has set its sights on 6G.

Why in news?

  • On March 22, PM Modi unveiled the Bharat 6G Vision Document, aimed at gearing up policymakers and the industry for the next generation of telecommunications.

What is 6G?

  • 6G is the next generation of wireless telecommunications technology, which is expected to offer significantly faster data speeds, higher bandwidth, and lower latency than 5G.
  • It is still in the development stage, and its commercial rollout is not expected for several years.
  • However, many countries, including India, are already working on developing 6G technology and setting standards for its implementation.

Differences between 6G and 5G

  • While 6G will offer faster loading times, improved video quality, and faster downloads, like every new generation of technology, it is unclear how much better it will be.
  • With latency already at the speed of light on existing networks, the benefits of 6G will depend on how different groups plan to use the spectrum.
  • Satellite constellations will join telecom towers and base stations, integrating networks and extending them to rural areas.

Motivations for pursuing 6G

  • Encourage local industry: The Indian government hopes to encourage local manufacturing of telecom gear and support Indian companies and engineers in international discussions around standardization.
  • Avoid delay unlike 5G: India aims to avoid the delay in previous generations of telecommunications technology, which started rolling out in India years after countries like South Korea and the United States.
  • Increased connectivity: Additionally, the lower frequency in 4G networks may not be able to keep up with the demand for traffic with increasing data usage, making 6G a necessity.

Government Plans for 6G

  • The Indian government plans to financially support “research pathways” to advance connectivity goals and establish an “apex body”.
  • India’s 6G goals include-
  1. Guaranteeing every citizen a minimum bandwidth of 100Mbps
  2. Ensuring every gram panchayat has half TB (terabyte) per second of connectivity, and
  3. Providing over 50 million internet hotspots with thirteen per square kilometre.

Roadmap for 6G in India

  • The government plans to implement 6G in two phases.
  1. Phase 1 will support explorative ideas, risky pathways, and proof-of-concept tests.
  2. Phase 2 will support ideas and concepts that show promise for global acceptance, leading to commercialisation.
  • It would appoint an apex council to oversee the project and deal with standardisation, identification of spectrum, finances for research and development, and more
  • The council will finance research and development of 6G technologies by Indian start-ups, companies, research bodies, and universities.
  • Key focus of the council will be on new technologies such as Terahertz communication, radio interfaces, tactile internet, and artificial intelligence.
  • Bharat 6G Mission aligns with the national vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat and aims to make India a leading supplier of advanced telecom technologies that are affordable and contribute to the global good.

Approaches to 6G in Other Countries

  • South Korea plans significant investments in 6G technology development, with a focus on laying the ground for key original technologies and domestic production of core equipment and components.
  • Countries are also starting to work together, with Japan and Germany planning a workshop to work on everything from “fundamental technologies to demonstrations.”
  • Europe’s equivalent of the Indian 6G Vision Document emphasizes leadership in strategic areas and establishing secure and trusted access to key technologies.

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Return of the Net Neutrality debate in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Net Neutrality

Mains level: Net Neutrality Debate

net neutrality

Since November 2022, India’s Cellular Operators Association (COAI) has been requesting that platforms like YouTube and WhatsApp pay a share of revenue to offset network costs, reigniting the net neutrality debate.

What is Net Neutrality?

  • Net Neutrality is the concept that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, without discrimination or preference given to certain types of content, websites, or users.
  • This means that internet service providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to block, slow down, or prioritize traffic based on the source, destination, or content of that traffic.
  • Net Neutrality is considered important for ensuring a level playing field for all internet users and promoting innovation, competition, and freedom of expression online.
  • It has been a subject of debate and regulatory action in many countries, including India, the United States, and the European Union.

Features of Net Neutrality

The following are some of the features of net neutrality:

  • Non-discrimination: All data should be treated equally, and internet service providers (ISPs) should not discriminate or prioritize any type of content, application, service, or device based on its source, destination, or ownership.
  • Transparency: ISPs should provide customers with clear and accurate information about their internet services, including their network management practices, terms of service, and fees.
  • No blocking: ISPs should not block or censor lawful content, applications, services, or devices that customers want to access, use, send, receive, or offer on the internet.
  • No throttling: ISPs should not intentionally slow down or degrade the quality of any lawful content, application, service, or device that customers want to access, use, send, receive, or offer on the internet.
  • No paid prioritization: ISPs should not offer faster or better access to any content, application, service, or device in exchange for payment or other consideration from content providers, developers, or users.
  • Competition: Net neutrality promotes competition among ISPs by preventing them from using their control over access to the internet to favor their own content, applications, services, or devices or those of their partners, affiliates, or subsidiaries over those of their competitors.

Why in news?   

Ans. BIF responds to COAI’s demands

  • The Broadband India Forum (BIF), which represents Internet firms such as Meta and Google, responded to the COAI’s demands by refuting them.
  • The COAI’s argument that the current demand has nothing to do with Net neutrality was contested by the BIF.
  • The COAI argued that Net neutrality pertains to the non-discriminatory treatment of content that has no nexus to the usage fee issue.

Arguments for and against the usage fee

  • Net neutrality activists and content providers argue that imposing a usage fee, even on a limited number of large players, would be a distortion of the Internet’s architecture.
  • They contend that content providers and telecom operators enjoy a symbiotic relationship without charging each other.
  • On the other hand, the COAI argues that a network fee is not related to Net neutrality and suggests that the government reduce spectrum fees and support telecom companies with the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).
  • Worldwide, telecom operators in the European Union are also demanding similar usage fees from content providers.

TRAI ruling and the Unified License

  • In 2016, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled in favour of Net neutrality, which requires that all traffic on an Internet network be treated equally.
  • In 2018, the Department of Telecommunications embedded the net neutrality concept into the Unified License, which binds all telecom operators and Internet providers.

 

 

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I&B Ministry issues advisory on private TV channels’ ‘Public Service Broadcasting’ Obligation 

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: TV Content on National Importance

tv

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry clarified that the topics of national importance and social relevance embedded in the programs broadcast by private TV channels would qualify for “Public Service Broadcasting” Obligation.

What is the news?

  • The Ministry had earlier issued the guidelines on November 9 last year.
  • Following consultations with the stakeholders, it has now come up with the advisory.

Content on National Importance: Key Guidelines for TV channels

  • The obligations are under the “Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Television Channels in India, 2022” to telecast such contents for 30 minutes every day.
  • The time for which the public service broadcasting content is telecast in between commercial breaks shall not be accounted for the 12-minute limit for commercial breaks.
  • The time for the content shall be accounted cumulatively on monthly basis i.e. 15 hours per month.
  • Broadcasters have the liberty to modulate their content.

Themes of National Interest

  • The relevant content embedded in the programs may be accounted for public service broadcasting.
  • However, it should be done in a manner that the overall objective of the public service broadcasting may be achieved.
  • The content could include the themes of:
  1. Education and spread of literacy
  2. Agriculture and rural development
  3. Health and family welfare
  4. Science and technology
  5. Welfare of women
  6. Weaker sections of society
  7. Protection of environment and cultural heritage and
  8. National integration

Provisions for voluntary compliance

  • Other subjects: The above list is indicative and could be extended to include similar subjects such as water conservation, disaster management, etc.
  • Self-certification: The advisory seeks to achieve the objective of public service broadcasting by the private TV channels through voluntary compliance and self-certification.
  • Repeat telecast: As advised, the content can be shared between the broadcasters and telecast repeatedly on one or several TV channels.
  • Common e-platform: Such platform can also be developed as a repository of relevant videos or textual content from various sources for access and use.

Rationale behind

  • Social responsibility: The government has argued that since “airwaves/ frequencies are public property” they “need to be used in the best interest of the society”.
  • Creating awareness: The role of mass media, especially the new channels plays a vital role in reshaping public opinion.

Ensuring compliance

  • Once the guidelines are implemented, the Ministry will monitor the channels for the broadcast of this content. In case non-compliance is observed in the Ministry’s view, an explanation will be sought.
  • If a channel continues to be non-compliant, more steps can be taken based on specific advisories that will be issued from time to time, and on a case-to-case basis.

Exemptions

  • Sports channel: The guidelines specify exceptions where it may not be feasible, such as in the case of sports channels, etc.
  • Wildlife channels: The exemption may also apply to wildlife channels and foreign channels, besides live telecasts in the case of sports channels.

 

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TRAI’s Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) Proposal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Calling Name Presentation (CNAP)

Mains level: Caller spams these days

cnap

Telecom operators have expressed concerns over user privacy on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) proposal.

Calling Name Presentation (CNAP)

  • Under this phones would need to display the name of a caller, by extracting the name of the telecom subscriber from their SIM registration data.
  • The feature would provide the called individual with information about the calling party (similar to ‘Truecaller’ and ‘Bharat Caller ID & Anti-Spam’).
  • The idea is to ensure that telephone subscribers are able to make an informed choice about incoming calls and curb harassment by unknown or spam callers.

Why need CNAP?

  • Securing important calls: Genuine calls should not get unanswered. Hence proper system is solicited.
  • Blocking of spammers: Since subscribers are not given the name and identity of the caller, they may choose not to answer them believing it could be commercial communication from unregistered telemarketers.
  • Rise of robocalls: There have been rising concerns about robocalls (calls made automatically using IT-enabled systems with a pre-recorded voice), spam calls and fraudulent calls.

What are the proposed models? 

The regulator has proposed four models for facilitating the CNAP mechanism-

  1. TSPs operating CNAP database: The first model involves each telecom service provider (TSP) establishing and operating a CNAP database of its subscribers. Here, the caller’s TSP would have to extract the relevant data from its own database.
  2. Database sharing: In the second model, the operator of the calling entity shares its CNAP database with the receiver’s operator. The difference here is that the calling operator would permit the receiver’s operator to access its database for the caller’s CNAP data.
  3. Creating a Centralised database: The onus rests on the receiver’s operator to delve into the centralized database to retrieve and present the caller’s data. This model is similar to a plan envisaged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in 2018, involving the setting up of a Digital Intelligence Unit at the central level.
  4. Centralized CNAP database: TSP retains a copy of a synchronized central database operated by a third party. It works this way: the call is facilitated as per the routine procedure, and since the receiver’s operator has access to both the centralized and their own database, the lookup is, therefore, internal.

Issues involved

  • Latency: The regulator has said that latency in setting up the call must be ensured and CNAP must be inter-operable. The responsiveness might also suffer when moving from a faster wireless network (4G or 5G) to a comparatively slower one (2G or 3G), or vice-versa.
  • Privacy Issue: It is not clear how the CNAP mechanism would balance the caller’s right to remain anonymous, an essential component of the right to privacy. To put it into perspective, an individual may opt to remain anonymous for multiple reasons, for example, whistle-blowers or employees being harassed.
  • Gendered impact: The proposal may particularly harm women. The service will display a woman subscriber’s name and data, to every calling party whether or not she consents to it.
  • Data sharing without consent: We have to see it in parallel with The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill (2022) which has a clause on deemed consent lacking adequate safeguards including sharing of data with third parties.
  • Implementation loopholes: Marketers have figured out newer ways to circumvent the existing framework. Previously, telemarketers were required to be registered as promotional numbers. Now they have started deploying people not necessarily part of the entity’s set-up, but rather “at-home workers”.

Way forward

  • Innovative solution: TRAI must build an interface that is user-friendly and in turn, an effective mechanism.
  • Spam identification: Active participation from the subscribers would ensure that spammers are rightly identified and are unable to make further calls.
  • Digital literacy: The government must also invest in digital literacy, skilling citizen’s to navigate and use the tech better, ensuring they do not share their data indiscriminately and are informed about dangers such as financial fraud and spoofing.

 

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Broadcasting Infrastructure and Network Development (BIND) Scheme

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: BIND Scheme

Mains level: Read the attached story

bind

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the “Broadcasting Infrastructure and Network Development (BIND)” scheme to upgrade Prasar Bharati to expand the public service broadcasting infrastructure across the country.

Prasar Bharati

  • Prasar Bharati is India’s state-owned public broadcaster, headquartered in New Delhi.
  • It is a statutory autonomous body set up by Prasar Bharati Act, 1990.
  • It comprises the Doordarshan Television Network and Akashvani All India Radio, which were earlier media units of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

 

BIND Scheme

  • BIND scheme is the vehicle for providing financial support to Prasar Bharati for expenses related to expansion and upgradation of its broadcasting infrastructure, content development and civil work.
  • Its features include-
  1. Outreach expansion: It will enable the public broadcaster to undertake a major upgradation of its facilities with better infrastructure which will widen its reach, in the LWE, border and strategic areas and provide high quality content to the viewers.
  2. Quality content: Another major priority area of the scheme is the development of high-quality content for both domestic and international audience and ensuring availability of diverse content to the viewers.
  3. More TV channels: It seeks to upgrade the capacity of DTH platform to accommodate more channels.
  4. Expansion of radio coverage: The scheme will increase coverage of AIR FM transmitters in the country to 66 percent by geographical area and 80 percent by population up from 59 percent and 68 percent respectively.
  5. Free DISH services: The scheme also envisages free distribution of over 8 lakh DD Free Dish STBs to people living in remote, tribal, left wing extremism inflicted and border areas.

Benefits provided

Ans. Employment generation

  • The project has the potential to generate indirect employment by way of manufacturing and services related to supply and installation of broadcast equipment.
  • Content generation and content innovation for AIR and DD has the potential of indirect employment of persons with varied experience of different media fields in the content production sector including TV/radio production, transmission and associated media-related services.
  • Further, the project for expansion of the reach of DD Free Dish is expected to generate employment opportunities in the manufacturing of the DD Free Dish DTH boxes.

 

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

India takes over leadership of the Asian Pacific Postal Union

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: APPU

Mains level: Not Much

postal

India took over the leadership of the Asian Pacific Postal Union (APPU) having its Headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand.

About Asian Pacific Postal Union (APPU)

  • APPU is an intergovernmental organization of 32-member countries of the Asian-Pacific region.
  • It was formed by International treaty through an Asian-Pacific Postal Convention signed in Yogyakarta on 27 March 1981.
  • The organisation has origins dating back to 1961.
  • APPU is the only Restricted Union of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in the region, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations.
  • Secretary General leads the activities of the Union and is also the Director of the Asian Pacific Postal College (APPC) which is the largest intergovernmental postal training institute in the region.

Goals and objectives

  • The goal of APPU is to extend, facilitate and improve postal relations between member countries and to promote cooperation in the field of postal services.
  • As the regional center for various UPU projects, APPU also takes the lead in ensuring that all technical and operational projects of the UPU are fulfilled in the region.

Significance of India’s chair

  • The Asia Pacific region accounts for around one-third of the world’s postal workforce and about half of the world’s mail volume.
  • India seeks to improve the regional coordination with postal players in the Asia Pacific region to improve the growth of the business through the postal network, to ensure the sustainability of the Union.
  • This is the first time an Indian is leading an international organization in the postal sector.

 

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Need to ensure that the digital gateways do not become gatekeepers of services

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Digital gateways, market dominance of big tech and government regulations

digital

Context

  • The ease of living enabled by digital technologies has turned digital innovations into essential services for the common public. Considered a novelty earlier, the internet has become a necessity for most day-to-day affairs.

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Internet access and restrictions

  • To enable access to the internet, various gateways have come up in the last few decades in the form of telecom service providers, personal computers and smartphones, operating systems, etc.
  • However, when these gateways enable and restrict access to other gateways or networks, the openness of the internet is threatened.
  • They then shift roles from being a facilitator to a regulator, from being a gateway to a gatekeeper. Hence, the need for a code of conduct or regulation arises to keep the playing field level and accessible to all.

digital

Analysis: Telecoms and Government

  • Telecom service providers: Telecom companies have been instrumental in providing a gateway to essential communication services such as voice calls, internet data, and text messages.
  • Government measures to regulate telecoms: We have seen governments across the world take measures from time to time to regulate these entities to ensure democratic access for the public. If this code of conduct was not enforced on these gateway providers, the internet would not be what it is today. These providers would have turned into gatekeepers, and the internet would have been controlled by them, thwarting innovation and its democratic expansion.
  • Code of conduct cannot catch up the pace of emerging digital tech: With the rate at which digital technologies are evolving, the code of conduct and regulations can’t catch up with the new gateway providers that are emerging. One such example is distribution platforms for smartphone applications.
  • Benchmarks set by bigtechs helps to bring some hygiene in smartphone apps: The two prominent operating systems emerging for smartphones, Google and Apple, enjoy a lion’s share of the app store market. They brought in good practices to ensure basic hygiene for smartphone applications, maintained quality benchmarks for the content on their operating systems, and safeguarded the interests of their users.
  • Lack of full proof regulation would be a slippery slope: Though, without proper regulations to oversee how they decide on what should be weeded and whose interests should be guarded, it’s a slippery slope.

Policy on Net Neutrality put forwarded by Indian Government 

  • Enforcing a code of conduct on telecoms: Closer home, another example of the enforcement of this code of conduct on providers was when the Indian government came out with the policy on Net Neutrality which, inter-alia, stipulates that telecom networks should be neutral to all the information being transmitted through it.
  • Meaning of Net Neutrality: Networks should treat all communication passing through them equally, independent of their content, application, service, device, sender, or recipient address. Adopting Net Neutrality ensured that we took a democratic stance against Big Tech.

digital

Questionable practices of distribution platforms

  • Practices without consent of its users: Various practices range from restrictions on payment gateways, advertising choices, app policies and various other aspects of an application or business that could be considered discriminatory in both principle and practice.
  1. For instance, a case of Goggle’s Update: Recently a report placed before the Competition Commission of India found Google Play Store’s payments policy “unfair and discriminatory”. As per an update in Google’s Play Store billing policy in September 2020, all applications on its platform were mandated to use its payment services for any kind of in-app payments or subscriptions.
  2. Similar case of Apple’s appstore: Similar concerns have been raised for Apple’s App Store, with both platforms said to be charging up to 30 per cent commission on payments processed.
  • Market dominance and unilateral control over smartphone apps by the bigtechs: Google and Apple dominate the global market share of smartphone operating systems (OS). This has enabled them to garner unilateral control over the publishing of smartphone applications on their OS.
  • Developers are forced to bend to the diktats of these bigtech gatekeepers: Bigtechs force developers to make changes to their applications or resort to using their proprietary advertising engines if they wish their applications to see the light of day. As is evident from the overnight change in Google’s billing policy, various smartphone application-dependent businesses and developers continue to remain vulnerable to such internal business policy changes on these platforms.

European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) sets an example

  • Recognising these concerns: The European Union has recently enacted the Digital Markets Act; it is expected to be implemented by early 2023.
  • Aims to keep digimarket open for competition: The Digital Markets Act regulation aims to keep digital markets innovative and open to competition, through ex-ante regulation.
  • Prohibit anti-competitive practices: The DMA will prohibit the implementation of the most harmful anti-competitive practices by the largest digital platforms.
  • Objective is to maintain balance: The objective is to balance the relationship between these platforms that control access to digital markets and the companies that offer their services there.

Conclusion

  • The Indian government has taken a huge leap forward in maintaining its sovereignty through the path-breaking and disruptive digital public goods it has created. Aadhaar, UPI, DigiLocker, and CoWIN are just a few names that adorn this list. However, there is still a wide dependence on various digital offerings enabled by multinational Big Tech companies. It is the need of the hour for the government to devise appropriate regulations to ensure a level playing field and not let the innovating gateways turn into tyrannical gatekeepers.

Mains Question

Q. India is the largest consumer of wireless internet. Analyze the role of big tech service providers in this and the role of government in ensuring a level playing field for all.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

QUAD and the Telecom network security

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Network security collaboration in QUAD countries

QUAD

Context

  • The advent of 5G provides the Quad or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of the United States (US), Japan, Australia and India, a unique opportunity to demonstrate how democracies can engage in effective technology collaboration.

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Background: The Huawei and QUAD response

  • Huawei’s connection with Chinese Communist Party: Recognising the risks that companies like Huawei, which is connected to the Chinese Communist Party, pose to telecommunications networks, each member country of the Quad has taken steps to ensure secure and resilient access to 5G.
  • Australia’s measure: Australia, for one, banned Huawei from its 5G rollout in 2018 and did the same with ZTE, citing national security concerns.
  • US concerns: For its part, the US has been raising concerns about Huawei since 2012, and doubled-down on its efforts in 2019 by adding Huawei to the Entity List.
  • Japan creating Open RAN: Japan, meanwhile, a long-time leader in the telecommunications space has accelerated its efforts to create ‘Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN)’, which promote vendor diversification and competition for better solutions.
  • India 5G and conflict with China on border: India took what it called a “step towards the new era” by deploying its first 5G services in select cities in October 2022; it is aiming to extend the network across the country over the next few years. India is unlikely to include Huawei in its networks, given the clash with Chinese forces in Galwan Valley in June 2020 and concerns about vendor trustworthiness.

QUAD

QUAD alignment on securing 5G telecom networks

  • Agreement in first meeting: During the first in-person leaders’ meeting in September 2021, Quad countries agreed to “build trust, integrity, and resilience” into technology ecosystems by having suppliers, vendors, and distributors ensure strong safety and security-by-design processes, and committed to a “fair and open marketplace”.
  • Memorandum of cooperation on 5g suppliers: Later, at the fourth meeting in May 2022, partners signed a New Memorandum of Cooperation on 5G Supplier Diversification and Open RAN, and reaffirmed their desire to “collaborate on the deployment of open and secure telecommunications technologies in the region.”

Why QUAD must cooperate on Network Security?

  • Fast emerging telecom technologies: For one, virtualised (software-based) networks will be the norm in the next 10 years, by which time 6G networks will begin to rollout. Early attention to security issues for emerging telecommunications technologies will help ensure that there is sufficient focus on security in the runup to 5G rollouts.
  • Interoperable software’s need to check: The Quad’s advocacy of Open RAN networks or network architectures that consist of interoperable software run on vendor-neutral hardware is another reason why there is a need to focus on software supply chain and software-based infrastructure security.
  • To ensure the comprehensive network strategy: Critics of Open RAN solutions often point to security concerns to argue against deploying these technologies. A comprehensive 5G security strategy is necessary to ensure trust in these networks.5G networks are critical infrastructure and it is imperative for states to ensure their security.
  • For instance: In 2018, Australian officials were the first to warn the public of the risks posed by untrustworthy vendors on 5G networks. Officials from the other Quad countries have followed suit and, along with key partners such as the European Union and United Kingdom, there is a clear consensus on the fundamental importance of secure and resilient communications networks.

How QUAD will be a key player in Talent Development?

  • Bridging the gap of talent pool: Nations across the globe are suffering from a talent shortage in the technology domain. With heightened demand for high-skilled workers, like-minded nations must cultivate and share their expertise with one another to bridge critical gaps.
  • Quad Fellowship: this, the Quad created the Quad Fellowship, which will support 100 students per year to pursue STEM-related graduate degrees in the United States. This could be an effective way to grow the talent pipeline in a way that fills current and emerging needs.
  • Restructuring programs that can fulfil the current and future demand: Many nations have started to consider changes to immigration policies for high-skilled talent. Australia, for example, has raised its permanent immigration cap by 35,000 for the current fiscal year, and Japan is planning to expand its programs soon.
  • Creative ways of QUAD countries to recruit talent: Shortage of talent pool that all Quad countries are experiencing as they seek creative ways to grow their technology talent pool. Indian companies, for example, are beginning to recruit in rural areas to address significant tech worker shortages that may stymie a growing start-up ecosystem.

QUAD

What QUAD need to do?

  • Ensure close coordination: While these commitments are significant, maintaining momentum requires close coordination of resources and policies. No one country can build resilient, open, and secure telecommunications networks on its own, particularly as countries deploy 5G and think ahead to 6G.
  • Adhering to the goals and principles: To ensure that operationalisation moves forward in line with the Quad’s stated principles and goals, the member countries must work together in four key areas: standard-setting; security; talent development; and vendor diversity.
  • Develop a recruitment framework for telecommunications: Quad countries have an opportunity to set a precedent for other democracies by rethinking what it means to be “qualified” for a position. Companies can look beyond degrees during the hiring process and focus on relevant skills by jointly developing assessment criteria for worker readiness and performance.
  • Incentivise 5G deployment in underserved areas: To ensure that talent is not left out of the candidates’ pool for tech jobs, Quad members can agree to prioritise secure 5G deployment in rural regions. Lack of access to reliable information and communications can be a significant barrier to entering the workforce, and expanding 5G deployment is a critical aspect of broadening the talent pool.
  • Enhance public-private partnerships: As Quad countries build their infrastructure and talent pools at home, they must also think about other countries that only consider cost when choosing Huawei and other untrusted telecom providers. As such, the Quad could leverage public-private partnerships to bolster the presence of trusted companies in new locations. By using coordinated, strategic financial incentives, they will also have an opportunity to train and educate third country governments on the threats posed by untrusted 5G vendors. Consequently, they will contribute to broader network security and resiliency as 5G is more widely deployed.
  • Provide R&D incentives: The governments of the Quad countries should offer incentives to promote ongoing work in hardware, software, and security improvements, specific technologies such as high-band technology and end-to-end network slicing, and research areas including telehealth, energy research, and agriculture. A broad base of enabling technologies and applications would encourage new entrants into the market.

Conclusion

  • Quad countries are well-positioned to accomplish plenty together. Of the many areas where they can progress, securing 5G is particularly promising due to the clearly stated objectives that Quad countries share. The Quad countries have the potential to provide a secure, flexible and open 5G network model to the Indo-Pacific and nations seeking democratic alternatives for their telecommunications infrastructure.

Mains question

Q. It is said that QUAD countries are well-positioned to secure the telecommunication network in the world. Discuss.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Revitalizing India’s Spectrum Policy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Telecom Spectrum

Mains level: Spectrum policy, auctions, Digital divide, issues and Solutions

Spectrum

Context

  • It is widely acknowledged that spectrum policy in India has had ups and downs, regretfully more downs than ups. Despite the recognized failure, India hosts 800 million internet users and host the second-largest telecommunications network in the world. We wonder what might have been achieved with a more reasonable and transparent spectrum policy.

Background

  • On September 22, the government released the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 seeking to replace the colonial era Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
  • The draft bill compares spectrum to aatma: “In a way, spectrum is similar to aatma, like aatma, spectrum too does not have any physical form, yet it is omnipresent.” And yet there is one immutable difference in this material world. While the value of aatma is inestimable, spectrum has always had a banal price tag associated with it.

Spectrum

What is Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022?

  • The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 is an attempt by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to consolidate various legislations presently governing the telecommunication landscape in India.
  • The Bill seeks to replace three laws, the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.
  • The new regulatory framework is to bring the law at par with technological advancements and remove obsolete provisions from the colonial era laws.

What is mean by Spectrum?

  • In physics, it’s a word that describes the distribution of something, like energy or atomic particles
  • Spectrum refers to the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over. Devices such as cell phones and wireline telephones require signals to connect from one end to another.
  • These signals are carried on airwaves, which must be sent at designated frequencies to avoid any kind of interference. The frequencies we use for wireless are only a portion of what is called the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • The Union government owns all the publicly available assets within the geographical boundaries of the country, which also include airwaves.
  • With the expansion in the number of cell phones, wireline telephone and internet users, the need to provide more space for the signals arise from time to time.

The status of Spectrum policy in India?

  • Host the second largest telecommunications network despite of failures:
  • It is widely acknowledged that spectrum policy in India has had ups and downs, it has for the most part failed to capitalize on the ubiquity of the electromagnetic spectrum to provide meaningful connectivity to all citizens.
  • Despite the recognized failure, we boast of a billion plus mobile subscribers, 800 million internet users and host the second-largest telecommunications network in the world.
  • Ineffective access widening space of digital divide:
  • The intent of the draft bill is to correct past sins so that the benefits of spectrum and technology are better shared, and the quality of access improved for everybody.
  • In other words, since effective access to spectrum has remained a significant barrier to facilitating meaningful connectivity for Indians.
  • Spectrum’s potential is huge but with technical limitations:
  • The draft bill rightly refers to the spectrum as having the characteristics of a public good. It is also an inexhaustible resource. But while spectrum per se is not depletable, there are technical limitations to its optimum utilization at a given point in time.
  • Consequently, it is viewed as a scarce natural resource and what’s more, expensive auctions have made the spectrum dear and arguably exclusionary.
  • High cost of spectrum acquisition:
  • Since 2010, the government has consistently used auctions for spectrum allocation and in only one of the seven auctions held since then, the government was successful in selling 100 per cent of the available spectrum. One reason for this lukewarm response, barring the 2010 auction, is the high cost of spectrum acquisition.
  • High cost of auctions leading to revenue loss for the government:
  • Due to the high reserve price, the most recent auction witnessed spectrum being sold at the reserve price, effectively rendering the basis of an auction moot.
  • If almost all spectrum was sold at its reserve price, and a significant amount goes unsold, it implies that the price was too high, to begin with. It also implies a loss of revenue for the government for spectrum unsold is spectrum squandered.
  • Finally, it results in areas being underserved or unserved affecting quality and quantity.
  • High network charges by operators impacts compromising equal distribution and quality:
  • According to one estimate, at 7.6 per cent of their aggregate revenue, spectrum cost in India is amongst the most expensive in the world.
  • Since network operators incur a significantly higher cost for spectrum compared to other emerging markets, the ability to invest in network upgradation and infrastructure is severely impacted, resulting in uneven distribution of service and poor quality to boot.

Spectrum

What Could be the fresh approach?

  • Acknowledging and addressing the issues:
  • It must be recognized that the spectrum needs to be combined with other infrastructure to enable service delivery.
  • The cost of deploying other infrastructure in remote areas is nearly twice as much, while revenue opportunities are far lower, damaging if not destroying the prospects of rural businesses. Plugging the digital divide, therefore, needs a fresh approach.
  • Correcting the cost of spectrum and boosting investment:
  • Since licences and spectrum are typically assigned for service areas that are, for the most part, identified by state boundaries.
  • Since operators predominantly cater to urban markets, the spectrum in remote areas remains under- or in places un-utilized due to a lack of investment in allied infrastructure.
  • Reviving the old and executing the fresh provisions enshrined in draft bill for equitable sharing:
  • The draft bill incorporates practical provisions on the spectrum such as use it, share it, or lose it – an awaited policy that, however, needs innovative support to be successful. The idea of “niche operators” providing services including to telecom operators and manufacturers, introduced in 2005, needs revival in this regard.
  • If licensed operators are unable to utilise the assigned spectrum, the same could be given to local entrepreneurs who understand the needs of rural customers and are better placed to develop a more effective business case more quickly than the larger telcos. Active promotion of the idea of niche operators might just jolt operators out of their lethargy towards rural services.
  • Adopting innovative methods:
  • Alternatively, the government may explore innovative methods of spectrum access such as a non-competitive licensing framework for certain specific use cases.
  • Canada, for instance, has initiated consultations on a non-competitive local licensing framework in the 3900-3980 MHz Band and portions of the 26, 28 and 38 GHz bands to inter alia facilitate broadband connectivity in rural areas.
  • Emphasizing on Transparency and enhancing healthy competition:
  • The government should build an ecosystem that inspires trust so that transparency in assignment can be secured at a reasonable price for operators with strict service obligations without the phantasm of auctions.
  • At the same time, there should be no unsold spectrum. Niche operators should be invoked to engender competition, and government could yet collect revenue for itself.

Spectrum

Conclusion

  • The telecom is no longer an end in itself. It exists for user industries much more than ever before. The spill over benefits are far greater than what the sector commands within. Thus, to state the obvious, the vision that is “Digital India” can never be realized if affordable broadband connectivity remains only within the reach of a few.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Draft Telecom Bill 2022

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022

Mains level: Read the attached story

telecom

In a bid to do away with British-era laws governing the telecom sector, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) issued the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022.

Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022

  • The proposed Bill aims to bring in sweeping changes to how the telecom sector is governed, primarily by giving the Centre more powers in several areas to do so.
  • The draft Bill consolidates three separate acts that govern the telecommunications sector:
  1. Indian Telegraph Act 1885
  2. Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933, and
  3. The Telegraph Wires, (Unlawful Protection) Act 1950

Why has the government issued a draft Telecommunication Bill?

  • Through the bill, the Centre aims to consolidate and amend the existing laws governing the provision, development, expansion and operation of telecom services, networks and infrastructure.

Key amendments introduced

  • Inclusion of messengers: One of the key changes is inclusion of new-age over-the-top communication services like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram in the definition of telecommunication services.
  • Licensing of telecom services: As per the draft law, providers of telecom services will be covered under the licensing regime, and will be subjected to similar rules as other telecom operators.
  • Covering OTT services: This issue has been under contention for several years now with telecom service providers seeking a level-playing field with OTT apps over communication services such as voice calls, messages, etc. Operators had to incur high costs of licences and spectrum, while OTT players rode on their infrastructure to offer free services.

Other focus areas

  • The Centre is also looking to amend the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act (TRAI Act) to dilute the sectoral watchdog’s function of being a recommendatory body.
  • The current TRAI Act mandates the telecom department to seek the regulator’s views before issuing a new licence to a service provider.
  • The proposed Bill does away with this provision.
  • It has also removed the provision that empowered TRAI to request the government to furnish information or documents necessary to make this recommendation.
  • Additionally, the new Bill also proposes to remove the provision where if the DoT cannot accept TRAI’s recommendations or needs modification, it had to refer back the recommendation for reconsideration by TRAI.

Addressing the concerns of telecom industry

(1) Insolvency of Telecoms

  • The DoT has also proposed that if a telecom entity in possession of spectrum goes through bankruptcy or insolvency, the assigned spectrum will revert to the control of the Centre.
  • So far, in insolvency proceedings, there has been a lack of clarity on whether the spectrum owned by a defaulting operator belongs to the Centre, or whether banks can take control of it.

(2) Granting relief

  • The draft Bill also accords the Centre powers to defer, convert into equity, write off or grant relief to any licensee under extraordinary circumstances, including financial stress, consumer interest, and maintaining competition, among other things.

(3) Replacing USOF

  • It also proposes to replace the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) with the Telecommunication Development Fund (TDF).
  • USOF is the pool of funds generated by the 5 per cent Universal Service Levy that is charged upon all telecom fund operators on their Adjusted Gross Revenue.
  • The USOF has largely been used to aid rural connectivity.
  • However, with the TDF, the objective is also to boost connectivity in underserved urban areas, R&D, skill development, etc.

Back2Basics: Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)

  • The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) was formed by an Act of Parliament, was established in April 2002 under the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act 2003.
  • It aims to provide financial support for the provision of telecom services in commercially unviable rural and remote areas of the country.
  • It is an attached office of the Department of Telecom, and is headed by the administrator, who is appointed by the central government.

 

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

History of the PIN code, which turns 50 this I-Day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: PIN code

Mains level: Not Much

The 75th Independence Day coincides with another milestone in the country’s history — it was on August 15, 1972, that the Postal Index Number (PIN) was introduced in India.

As the PIN code turns 50 on Monday, we look at its history and evolution.

Why was the PIN code introduced?

  • According to the Department of Posts, there were 23,344 post offices, primarily in urban areas, in India at the time of Independence.
  • But, the country was growing rapidly and the postal network had to keep pace.
  • The PIN code was meant to ease the process of mail sorting and delivery in a country where different places, often, have the same or similar names, and letters are written in a wide variety of languages.

How does the PIN code work?

  • The PIN is made up of six digits.
  • The first number indicates the postal region — Northern, Eastern, Western, Southern; and number 9, which signifies the Army Postal Service.
  • The second number denotes a sub-region, and the third represents the sorting district.
  • The remaining numbers narrow the geography further to the specific post office making the delivery.

Who was the person behind the initiative?

  • The person behind the initiative was Shriram Bhikaji Velankar, additional secretary in the Union Ministry of Communications and a senior member of the Posts and Telegraphs Board.
  • Velankar was also a Sanskrit poet of eminence who had been conferred the President’s Award for Sanskrit in 1996, three years before he died in Mumbai.
  • He had set up a cultural group in Mumbai, called the Dev Vani Mandiram, which worked to create awareness about Sanskrit in India and foreign countries.
  • Velankar was also the chairman of the World Philatelic Exhibition, called Indipex, which was held in New Delhi in 1973 and featured 120 countries.
  • He retired from his government service on December 31, 1973.

What are some parallel systems followed world over?

  • Globally, in the US, the Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) code was introduced July 1, 1963, under the aegis of the Postal Service Nationwide Improved Mail Service plan to improve the speed of mail delivery.
  • Under the old system letters went through about 17 sorting stops – the new system was going to be considerably less time-consuming utilizing newer, more mechanical systems.

Is the PIN code still relevant?

  • With the spread of the Internet, when people are sending fewer letters, it is easy to question the relevance of the PIN code.
  • But try to order food delivery or a parcel over online shopping and the importance of Velankar’s work in India will become evident.

 

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

5G

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 5G technology

Mains level: 5G Rollout and related issues

The much-awaited auction for telecom spectrum, including for 5G airwaves, will begin tomorrow.

Spectrums for auctions

  • A total of 72,097.85 MHz (or 72 Ghz) of spectrum with a validity period of 20 years will be put on the block.
  • Airwaves across low (600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz), mid (3300 MHz) and high (26 GHz) frequency bands, valued at ₹4,316 billion ($56 billion) at least, will be put up for bidding.

What is (Electromagnetic) Spectrum?

  • Devices such as cellphones and wireline telephones require signals to connect from one end to another.
  • These signals are carried on airwaves, which must be sent at designated frequencies to avoid any kind of interference.
  • The Union government owns all the publicly available assets within the geographical boundaries of the country, which also include airwaves.
  • With the expansion in the number of cellphones, wireline telephone and internet users, the need to provide more space for the signals arise from time to time.

Spectrum allocations

  • Spectrum refers to the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over. The frequencies we use for wireless are only a portion of what is called the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • To sell these assets to companies willing to set up the required infrastructure to transport these waves from one end to another, the central government through the DoT auctions these airwaves from time to time.
  • These airwaves called spectrum is subdivided into bands which have varying frequencies.
  • All these airwaves are sold for a certain period of time, after which their validity lapses, which is generally set at 20 years.

What is 5G technology?

  • 5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks.
  • It mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high-frequency spectrum — all of which have their own uses as well as limitations.

Three bands of 5G

(1) Low band spectrum

  • It has shown great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange, the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second).
  • This means that while telcos can use and install it for commercial cellphones users who may not have specific demands for very high-speed internet, the low band spectrum may not be optimal for the specialized needs of the industry.

(2) Mid-band spectrum

  • It offers higher speeds compared to the low band but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals.
  • Telcos and companies, which have taken the lead on 5G, have indicated that this band may be used by industries and specialized factory units for building captive networks that can be molded into the needs of that particular industry.

(3) High-band spectrum

  • It offers the highest speed of all the three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength.
  • Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), while, in most cases, the maximum internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.

Where does India stand in the 5G technology race?

  • On par with the global players, India had, in 2018, planned to start 5G services as soon as possible, with an aim to capitalize on the better network speeds and strength that the technology promised.
  • Indian private telecom players have been urging the DoT to lay out a clear road map of spectrum allocation and 5G frequency bands so that they would be able to plan the rollout of their services accordingly.
  • One big hurdle, however, is the lack of flow of cash and adequate capital with some companies due to their AGR dues.

Global progress on 5G

  • More than governments, global telecom companies have started building 5G networks and rolling it out to their customers on a trial basis.
  • In countries like the US, some companies have taken the lead when it comes to rolling out commercial 5G for their users.
  • A South Korean company, which had started researching on 5G technology way back in 2011, has, on the other hand, take the lead when it comes to building the hardware for 5G networks for several companies.

 

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

A path to global connectivity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: LEO

Mains level: Paper 3- 5G network with LEO satellites

Context

As terrestrial 5G mobile networks are being rolled out across countries, there is a renewed interest in integrating Non-Terrestrial Networks.

SatNets for 5G

  • Satellites and terrestrial networks have always been considered two independent ecosystems, and their standardisation efforts have proceeded independent of each other.
  • The primary non-terrestrial network that is being considered is the low latency Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite networks (SatNets), as a complement to terrestrial networks.
  • Towards this, Starlink, operated by the Elon Musk-owned SpaceX, and OneWeb, promoted by Bharti Global, have launched about 2,500 and 648 LEO satellites respectively at an altitude of about 1,200 km with the objective of promoting global broadband connectivity.
  • There are other players such as Reliance Jio in a joint venture with Luxembourg-based SES and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

Benefits of using SatNets

  • 1] Service continuity in emergency: service continuity to provide seamless transition between terrestrial networks and SatNets in case of public safety, disaster management and emergency situations;
  • 2] Providing service in remote area: Service ubiquity to provide 5G services in unserved and underserved areas of the world, thereby bridging the digital divide;
  • 3] Scalability: Service scalability that utilises the unique capabilities of SatNets in multicasting and broadcasting similar content over a large geographical area.
  • 4] Service to in-motion user: The LEO SatNets can provide service not only to stationary but also to in-motion users.
  • 5] Low latency over long distance: Wireless communications through LEO satellites over long distances is proven to be 1.47 times faster than communication over the same distance through terrestrial optic fibre. It is this advantage along with global coverage that provide a strong use case for LEO SatNets to complement terrestrial optic fibre networks.
  • SatNet in standardisation: In view of the above advantages, standard-setting organisations such as the Third Generation Partnership project (3GPP), comprising telcos and equipment manufacturers around the world, started integrating SatNets in the standardisation process.

Measures by the government

  • Realising the advantages, the Government, in its National Digital Communications Policy 2018, has indicated the development of an ecosystem for local manufacturing of satellite communication systems and promoting participation of private players for the strengthening of satellite communication infrastructure in the country.
  • Accordingly, the New Space India Limited (NSIL), a public sector enterprise, was established in 2019 to re-orient space activities from a ‘supply driven’ model to a ‘demand driven’ model, thereby ensuring optimum utilisation of the space assets.
  • The Department of Space also established in 2020 a new regulatory body named the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe).
  • IN-SPACe is intended to provide a level playing field for private companies to use Indian space infrastructure.

Issues and challenges

  • Allocation of frequency: Issues will involve addressing issues around frequencies to be allocated for satellite broadband, the methodology of allocation, the relatively higher cost of consumer equipment and the placement and interconnections of SatNets with terrestrial public landline/ mobile networks at the ground stations
  • Cost: The other major challenge in LEO SatNets is the cost of user terminal and access charges to the end users.
  • A recent research analysing both Starlink and OneWeb concludes that the standalone LEO SatNets have a distinct cost advantage only if the density is less than 0.1 person per square km compared to terrestrial broadband networks.
  • Hence it is to the advantage of LEO SatNet providers to integrate their networks with terrestrial 5G networks to improve the cost economies.

Conclusion

All these, along with the proposed revisions to the Satellite Communications Policy of the Government, will provide the required fillip to LEO SatNets to become an integral part of the communication infrastructure of the country.

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Back2Basics: LEO satellites

  • LEO satellites orbit between 2,000 and 200 kilometers above the earth. LEO satellites are commonly used for communications, military reconnaissance, spying and other imaging applications.
  • A low earth orbit (LEO) satellite is an object, generally a piece of electronic equipment, that circles around the earth at lower altitudes than geosynchronous satellites.
  • Satellites made for communications benefit from the lower signal propagation delay to LEO.
  • This lower propagation delay results in less latency.
  • Being closer to the earth has an obvious benefit for many types of earth observational satellites by resolving smaller subjects with greater detail.

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

What are Private Captive Networks?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Private Captive Networks

Mains level: 5G Rollout

The Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) wrote a letter urging the government against allotting 5G spectrum to private captive networks, claiming that it will diminish their revenue to the point where offering 5G will pointless.

What is a Private Captive 5G Network?

  • A private captive 5G network is basically a network set up by a private entity for the use of just one organisation.
  • It is similar to a captive coal mine in that the 5G service offered by this captive network will only be utilised by the enterprise concerned, and no one else.

Why are telecom providers against it?

  • The COAI’s argument is that enterprises are the biggest users of 5G networks.
  • If private entities are allowed to offer captive networks to enterprises, the TSPs (telecom service providers) retail revenues will fall.
  • COAI implied that there is no great demand for 5G right now as “the needs of voice and data of the entire nation is being adequately met by the TSPs through their 4G networks today”.

 

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Cabinet approves mega 5G auction

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 5G technology

Mains level: Not Much

The Union Cabinet has approved the auction of airwaves capable of offering fifth generation, or 5G, telecom services, including ultra-high-speed Internet, and gave its nod for setting up of captive 5G networks by big tech firms.

What is the news?

  • The auction of over 72 GHz of the spectrum will be held by July-end.
  • Auctions will be held at reserve prices recommended by the sector regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
  • TRAI had earlier recommended about a 39% reduction in the reserve or floor price for the sale of 5G spectrum for mobile services.

What is 5G technology?

  • 5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks.
  • It mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high-frequency spectrum — all of which have their own uses as well as limitations.

Three bands of 5G

(1) Low band spectrum

  • It has shown great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange, the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second).
  • This means that while telcos can use and install it for commercial cellphones users who may not have specific demands for very high-speed internet, the low band spectrum may not be optimal for the specialized needs of the industry.

(2) Mid-band spectrum

  • It offers higher speeds compared to the low band but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals.
  • Telcos and companies, which have taken the lead on 5G, have indicated that this band may be used by industries and specialized factory units for building captive networks that can be molded into the needs of that particular industry.

(3) High-band spectrum

  • It offers the highest speed of all the three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength.
  • Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), while, in most cases, the maximum internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.

Where does India stand in the 5G technology race?

  • On par with the global players, India had, in 2018, planned to start 5G services as soon as possible, with an aim to capitalize on the better network speeds and strength that the technology promised.
  • Indian private telecom players have been urging the DoT to lay out a clear road map of spectrum allocation and 5G frequency bands so that they would be able to plan the rollout of their services accordingly.
  • One big hurdle, however, is the lack of flow of cash and adequate capital with some companies due to their AGR dues.

Global progress on 5G

  • More than governments, global telecom companies have started building 5G networks and rolling it out to their customers on a trial basis.
  • In countries like the US, some companies have taken the lead when it comes to rolling out commercial 5G for their users.
  • A South Korean company, which had started researching on 5G technology way back in 2011, has, on the other hand, take the lead when it comes to building the hardware for 5G networks for several companies.

 

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

The way forward on 5G

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 3- Duopoly threat in India's telecom sector

Context

The near-death of competition signalled by the incipient exit of Vi late last year pushed the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to announce steps to prevent the premature exit of a sagging operator.

About 5G

  • 5G is the 5th generation mobile network.
  • It is a new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.
  • 5G can be significantly faster than 4G, delivering up to 20 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps) peak data rates and 100+ Megabits-per-second (Mbps) average data rates.
  • 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices.
  • 5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users.
  • Higher performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and connects new industries.
  • With high speeds, superior reliability and negligible latency, 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms.
  • 5G will impact every industry, making safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitized logistics — and more — a reality.

India’s telecom sector: From monopoly to hyper-competition to duopoly

  • India’s telecom market has seen monopoly as well as hyper-competition.
  • Twenty-five years ago, the government alone could provide services.
  • Technology and deregulation: In the following years, the combined forces of technology and deregulation helped break the shackles of public sector dominance despite the latter’s stiff resistance
  • In the following years, there were nearly a dozen competing operators. Most service areas now have four players.
  • However, the possible exit of the financially-stressed Vodafone Idea would leave only two dominant players-Airtel and Jio in the telecom sector.
  • A looming duopoly, or the exit of a global telecommunications major, are both worrying.
  • They deserve a careful and creative response.

Government package for telecom sector to prevent duopoly

  • The near-death of competition signalled by the incipient exit of Vi late last year pushed the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to announce steps to prevent the premature exit of a sagging operator.
  • As a part of its support package for the telecom sector, in October 2021, it dispensed with the requirement of performance bank guarantees required earlier as security.
  • It increased the tenure of spectrum holding from 20 to 30 years.
  • It allowed for the surrender of the unutilised or underutilised spectrum after 10 years.
  • Most importantly removed the levy of spectrum usage charges. 

Why competitive telecom market is important?

  • Key to achieving digital ambitions: A competitive telecom sector is fundamental to realising India’s digital ambitions.
  • Innovation: Monopolies have no incentive to innovate.
  • Investment: The competition will guarantee that operators find it attractive to invest in network infrastructure upgradation and offer consumers a wide range of innovative service options.
  • Source of revenue: A competitive telecom sector would be an indirect source of tax revenue as well.
  • How to make market competitive? Competition cannot be willed into the sector.
  • It needs careful nurturing, assiduous fostering and regulatory neutrality. 

Way forward on 5G

  • Structural changes: While the package may have prevented the exit of Vi from the market, to embed competition within the sector, structural changes are necessary.
  • The imminent 5G networks demand massive investment and sophistication of operations.
  • 1] Level playing field: This will not be achieved unless the playing field is level across the relevant operators and honest incentives are provided to operators to embrace new technology.
  •  2] Change the spectrum allocation method: There is no doubt that spectrum auctions have served India well in the past due to the acrimonious political economy associated with administrative spectrum assignment, including First Come First Serve (FCFS) method.
  • The auction regime worked well when demand exceeded supply, but if there is an adequate quantity of spectrum for everyone, that constraint would not exist.
  • Administrative assignments can thus be considered once again.
  • 3] Administrative assignments:  An administrative assignment will include the possibility that all spectrum can be assigned at reasonable prices and in the process, a grand bargain can be struck with telecom operators.
  • 4] Assigning 5G spectrum for private enterprise business: TRAI and the Digital Communications Commission (DCC) are considering whether 5G spectrum should be assigned to companies like TCS, Amazon and Google, among others, for their private enterprise business.
  • 5G spectrum assignment for enterprises would adversely affect the business model of telcos.
  • But there will be enterprises that telcos could serve that are not large enough to purchase 5G spectrum.
  • A grand bargain that allows enterprises to buy 5G spectrum while assigning spectrum to the existing telcos through the administrative route will also serve the revenue needs of the government.
  • 5] Privatise public sector operator: This is an opportunity to also signal to the public sector operator that 5G business is outside the range of its capability set.
  • Hence like Air India it needs to be privatised in the fullness of time.
  • These are difficult decisions and will need much more political will than in 1994.

Consider the question “Why a competitive telecom market is a prerequisite for achieving India’s digital dream and why an eminent duopoly in the sector stands to threaten that dream? Suggest way forward.”

Conclusion

It would be tragic if India’s telecom-access market was to be reduced to only two competing operators, as we have a long way to go. What we need is structural changes in the sectors as well as the way the sector is regulated.

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Back2Basics: Spectrum usage charges

  • Companies had to pay 3-5 per cent of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) as spectrum usage charge to the department of telecom.
  • If they share spectrum with another operator, operators must pay an additional 0.5 per cent of AGR for that band as SUC.
  • However, in September 2021, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) decided to remove the floor rate of 3% of the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) for operators to pay their spectrum usage charge (SUC).
  • The removal of the clause fixing a floor rate of 3% was done to give effect to the recently announced telecom relief package.
  • Though the telecom package talks of scrapping SUC only on spectrum acquired in future auctions like that of 5G, if the 3% floor is abolished, as and when operators acquire more spectrum in future auctions, their SUC will become zero on the entire holding.
  • This is because of a complex weighted average formula to calculate the SUC of operators who have a mix of administratively allocated spectrum and acquired through auctions.

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