It's time the government accepts that current policies are not enough to bring about Digital India.
For the government, there's an overriding imperative for revenue collection. The motivation is an unrelenting need for (legitimate) expenditure on infrastructure, governance, and basic welfare in a developing economy. This is compounded by execution on a massive scale that also involves changes in user behaviour, for instance, village institutions like CSCs that have yet to take root. Another level of complexity is because two-thirds of users are from non-urban areas requiring extensive wireless broadband, untested for rural delivery except for satellite television.
With the public and media suspicious of government and industry, resolving these aspects is more difficult because of their skepticism and opposition. There's a disinclination to evaluate policies objectively because of recent scams. It is increasingly obvious that plugging away at legacy plans with their failure rate won't do, and more effective ways must be framed to achieve connectivity. For solutions acceptable to the government, to service providers, and the public, essential criteria are transparency and fairness. Next, the approach must be practicable, yield reasonable government revenues, and have reasonable profit potential. All these elements are required for sustainable initiatives. Every step has to be thought through, with all government departments working together (another big ask) and with industry, from the basic strands: connective links, sustainable equipment at reasonable cost, and revenue streams (whether from user payments or partly from subsidies) for services and content to more than cover those costs.
Recognising this reality, it's time to frame breakthrough policies, encouraging service providers to increase broadband reach to cover suburban and rural users, and to provide content that they want. Ways to do this include:
As rural areas are not densely populated, the availability of spectrum is not a constraint as in urban areas. Using this approach, devices being tested in trials by the IITs and ERNET, if satisfactory, can be used for both TV-over-the-Internet as well as for broadband. This will enable Doordarshan and others to provide Internet access to archival content, and to current and future programmes. Consortium approaches to organisation and revenue sharing have to be developed as part of the solution. If shared on a secondary basis (ensuring primary access to Doordarshan when required), this approach can be adopted for unused spectrum for an interim period of some years without changes in allocation, to give it a chance to develop before taking stock, with reduced spectrum fees and/or incentive payments for seeding rural markets.
If the virtual network operator idea is extended to full sharing of networks including secondary sharing of unused spectrum for a fee to owners, future network investments will be rationalised, and capacity utilisation of networks and spectrum will likely become much more optimal.
Shyam (no space) Ponappa at gmail dot com