Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 12 January 2024

Open up the playing field

Relevance: GS II and III (Polity and Science and Technology)

  • Prelims: Government Initiatives in Data Science and Technology
  • Mains: Digital Governance; Information Technology; Government Initiatives in Data Science and Technology

Why in the News?

The Telecommunication Act of 2023 (passed in Dec 2023) will need to see through the next few generations of communications technology including a multitude of innovations.

Evolution of Telecommunication Act of 2023:

  • Through these years, the Telegraph Act stood tall, through a series of amendments and intermittent policy reforms. 
  • The life span of this new Act may not be as long, but it will need to see through the next few generations of communications technology including a multitude of innovations spanning human-human (voice calls, messaging, video calls), human-machine (wearables), and machine-machine (Industry 4.0) communications. 
  • The use of computing and other complementary technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and quantum computing, will become inseparable from communications technology.

What are the significant improvements in recent law?

  • Providing flexibility for the allocation of spectrum, mechanisms for improving right of way and building common ducts and cable corridors, expanding the application of USOF (now Digital Bharat Nidhi) and improving fund utilization are certainly steps in the right direction. 
  • Promotion of competition: On 5G, India, like most other countries, is stuck in a vicious cycle of unattractive use cases, poor monetization and underinvestment in infrastructure. 
    • The publicly committed capex of Rs 42,000 and Rs 33,000 crore for 2023-24 by Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel respectively, is driven by their roll-out targets, after which both companies are expected to substantially lower capex, between 30-40% of previous year’s levels. 
  • Resource mobilization for infrastructure upgrade in a debt-laden industry: Investments in 5G start-ups have shrunk from $639 million in 2022 to $134.1 million in 2023. 
    • This was due to the limited availability of 5G connectivity beyond the metros. Opening up the market to new players and improving competition can attract more investments and consequently innovation in the industry.

Limitations with new provisions:

  • Issues with Citizen’s Privacy: 
    • The present changes are without the contested provisions for safety standards and public emergencies which give the government unfettered power that can infringe on citizen privacy with little or no accountability for governing officers.
    • The Act’s section on Powers of Authorization and Assignment rightly provides for technology neutrality of spectrum use, but does not reflect the same in the delivery of communication services. 
  • Discriminatory and Exclusive access
    • In the new Act, the spirit of infrastructure unbundling that is manifest in the section on right of way for facilities providers needs to find expression in the section on authorizations. 
    • The aim should be to facilitate equivalence of inputs (products and processes offered to competitors at the same terms as to the operator’s own retail arm) and/or equivalence of outputs (products and services offered by the operator to its own retail business and to other operators, are functionally comparable). 
    • Moreover, it is merely the old idea of functional separation that was first brought up in the Communications Convergence Bill of 2001.
  • Worldwide Regulatory experience: 
    • Functional separation has been used as a regulatory remedy by many countries to address market concentration like in Sweden, UK, Australia, Ireland and Poland. However, no regulation is without risk. 
    • The remedies when disproportionate can lead to counterproductive outcomes including lower investments and lower innovation. 
  • Fragmented oversight over Converged services
    • This Act has integrated two acts whose separation had become superfluous, the siloed view of telecommunications and internet will soon become inhibiting. Regulatory convergence is no longer a new idea for digital technologies, telecommunications and broadcasting. 
    • TRAI’s Consultation paper of January 2023, asked questions on the efficacy of separate licences and distinctive administrative departments to handle converged services. 
    • An integrated view is essential, where the functional distinction between telcos and over-the-top services is blurring, with the two playing both complementary and competitive roles with respect to each other. 

Way Forward:

  • Need for Non-discriminatory and Non-Exclusive Access: Any new player in the services market must have non-discriminatory and non-exclusive access to infrastructure on a commercial basis for it to compete against integrated entities. 
    • The government through the USOF, should also contribute through explicit targets for infrastructure build out in rural and non-rural areas while creating a competitive space for investments by the private sector.
  • Need for a Unified Vision
    • The government should bring synergies in licensing, standards, skilling and governance across different departments. 
    • Besides creating an enabling business environment that lowers costs for business, investing in fibre infrastructure will require a significant amount of resource generation for both urban and rural areas. 
  • Technology type: A combination of technologies can be used to deliver voice and data services. 
  • Sustained growth of India’s telecom industry: The Telecommunications Act, 2023 sits at the centre of India’s digital revolution by unleashing competition in services, facilitating the transition to fibre-based networks and promoting technology dynamism.


Further, for India to move to high-quality digital applications, it has to lend itself to multiple technology configurations and transition from wireless to a wireline-led architecture. The emphasis on Right of Way in the provisions of the new Act acknowledges this need as well. 


Mains PYQs

Q. “The emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Digital Revolution) has initiated e-Governance as an integral part of government”. Discuss (UPSC CSE 2020)

Q. Impact of digital technology as a reliable source of input for rational decision making is a debatable issue. Critically evaluate with suitable example. (UPSC CSE 2021)

Book A Free Counseling Session