Thursday, October 1, 2009

Beyond RTI: The Use of Information

Govt and regulatory focus needs to be on the use of available information for better results
Shyam Ponappa / New Delhi October 1, 2009

The principle of the Right To Information, once established and accepted, opens up a wide range of practical applications. There are, however, many potential areas of information usage for better management for which the data are already there, although perhaps not in an easily accessible form. Some examples are: the supervision of bank loans by the Reserve Bank of India for each sector, eg, housing, commercial real estate, the priority sectors including SMEs, and specific aspects of infrastructure; the acquisition and distribution of electricity; and communications. Consider some aspects of communications where the use of available data could result in better delivery through regulatory intervention.

Two areas relating to information use in communications are (a) spectrum management, and (b) monitoring and administering the Quality of Services, eg, interconnection. Both areas require clarity regarding regulatory powers to enforce compliance and impose penalties before smart applications are feasible, as well as augmenting the powers of the regulator, in this case, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), to supervise usage, ensure compliance, and impose penalties where necessary. However, as described below, the data are already available for hands-on spectrum management. The data on interconnection may be there, although perhaps not yet compiled in an accessible form.

Spectrum Management

Figure 1 is a graphic representation of spectrum allocation and usage in January 2009.

Figure 1: Spectrum Status (MHz) by Circle & Operator, January 2009

This report was compiled by JP Morgan for equity investors, but there are good reasons for regulators to use similar graphics to track status and resource use among operators on a real-time basis.

The darkest squares (blue on a colour screen) indicate existing operators who are using their allocated spectrum. The next darkest (green on a colour screen) have been allocated spectrum, but have not begun operations. The next lighter shade (yellow on a colour screen) with a ‘Y’ denotes that licences have been obtained while spectrum allocation is awaited; ‘A’ indicates that licences have been applied for and awaiting both licence and spectrum. The lightest shade (white in colour) indicates no licence and no spectrum.

It is evident at a glance from the colour coding that the green squares (second-darkest) indicate possession of spectrum that is not in use, ie, either the legitimate condition of awaiting a network rollout, or the speculative state of ‘spectrum squatters’. This highlights the set that requires hands-on monitoring, facilitating time-bound stipulations for usage, followed up with incentives and penalties. Once such systems are set up online, real-time status reports will be readily available for assessment and action, facilitating regulatory intervention to yield improved service quality for users. There is every reason for such information and graphics to be collated and made available in the public domain.


The quality of service in communications can fall short of optimal levels for a variety of reasons. In urban areas with heavy traffic, the problems of congestion may be aggravated by a shortage of spectrum, ie, the limited allocation of radio frequency spectrum to operators. But there may be self-induced problems as well, such as inadequate infrastructure, including poor interconnections with other networks.

I was recently in an area northwest of Uttarkashi where the only phones that could operate were on the Idea Cellular network. The curious and disabling circumstance was that Airtel and Vodaphone users could not connect with any network. The question is why, given that the Trai’s charter is to ensure that all users of any network should be able to connect to any other network. As far back as 2003, the Trai had ruled that all operators must provide interconnection to Tata Teleservices. In August 2008, the Trai directed GSM operators to provide interconnection facilities to Reliance Communications within seven days. If my understanding is correct, the implication is that users of any network, such as Airtel or Vodafone as in our group, should have been able to connect to the Idea network. Yet, here we were, not able to access the communications network except for subscribers to Idea Cellular.

It should be possible for the Trai to monitor Points of Interconnection (POIs) in real-time and track the extent of congestion, instead of doing one-off reports as in November 2005.* Such information, once collated as in the spectrum status report and made available on an ongoing basis, would enable remedial action to ensure that users have convenient access to networks at all locations where any network is accessible.

These are indicative examples of how the imaginative presentation of available information can be used to improve delivery. Government agencies and regulators can apply imagination and initiative in designing and applying such tools for effective management and results.

* See ‘Study paper on State of Indian Telecom Network’:

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