"I am very happy to participate in this 8th edition of India Telecom. I understand that the India Telecom series of conferences has been of great benefit to various stakeholders in the telecom sector in our country. I have no doubt that this event this year will see similar success.
The telecom sector in India exemplifies how competition and free flow of capital can benefit our economy. Over the years, it has contributed significantly to our economic growth and has created valuable employment opportunities. The expansion of telecom connectivity in our urban areas and later, in our rural areas, has improved our people's lives in a major way. However, a large part of the vast transformative potential of telecommunications still remains untapped.
Our government remains committed to facilitating further growth of the telecom sector. During the last two years, we have taken a number of steps in this direction. A new policy regime, the National Telecom Policy 2012, was announced last year, bringing clarity on a number of complex issues. We have attempted to simplify the licensing regime, and to ensure adequate availability of spectrum for provision of telecom services and its allocation in a transparent manner through market-related processes. I understand that the Department of Telecommunications has already started issuing Unified Licenses and will also shortly issue the Merger and Acquisition guidelines. We have raised the Foreign Direct Investment limit in the telecommunications sector from 74% to 100%. I am confident that all these measures will go a long way in addressing the concerns of investors and provide a new impetus to the growth of telecommunications industry in our country.
With a rural tele-density of just over 40%, there are millions of people in our rural economy whose lives still remain untouched by the telecom revolution. And this is a challenge that should worry all of us and we must have determination to grapple with it effectively. This deficit is further magnified when it comes to Internet connectivity. On a per capita basis, the usage of the Internet is quite low in India. Both the availability and the reliability of Internet services outside the major cities leave much to be desired.
The transformative power of the Internet is clearly visible in the lives of a large number of our people. Today services like travel bookings, banking, shopping and education are increasingly being delivered through the Internet. Rapid advances in technology are also resulting in newer uses of this medium.
All this points to the urgent need for measures to bridge the rural-urban divide in the area of telecommunications. This divide should not become a source of added disparity in our society. On the contrary, we should leverage the immense potential of the telecommunications to reduce the socio-economic disparities that presently exist in our country. I believe that this can be done in a variety of ways. For example, by combining a mobile phone with mobile banking, one can achieve the objective of financial inclusion at a very low cost. The Reserve Bank of India is already working on making this possible using the Aadhaar identity framework. Similarly, combining a computer with 3G connectivity can revolutionize the delivery of education. Students can learn the subject of their choice from quality teachers without leaving the place of their residence. I am told that the Telecom Commission is working on such possibilities and I wish them all success in this noble endeavour.
Our Government is alive to the need for expansion of telecom services in the rural areas. One of the key objectives of the National Telecom Policy 2012 is to increase rural tele-density to 70% by the year 2017 and 100% by the year 2020. The Policy also recognizes telecom and broadband connectivity as a basic necessity and aims to provide reliable and affordable broadband access to rural and remote areas in our country.
A scheme to extend financial support from the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund for providing mobile communication services in 56000 uncovered villages of our country is on the anvil. This scheme will give priority to the uncovered villages of the North Easten sector.
We have also approved a scheme for installing mobile towers at about 2200 locations in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) at an estimated cost of about Rs. 3000 crore. This too will be financed by the USO Fund.
The National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project aims to connect all Gram Panchayats in our country through optical fibre. I have been informed that three Pilot Projects covering all Gram Panchayats of a Block each in Rajasthan, Tripura and Andhra Pradesh have already been completed.
I would also like to take today's opportunity to repeat a point that I made last year. India needs to develop a strong domestic manufacturing base in electronics and telecommunications. It is estimated that by 2020, India will be importing electronics products worth about 300 billion dollars, which will be more than the value of our imports of petroleum products. We need to act now to avoid a situation where we face difficulties in financing these huge imports. India should have manufacturing facilities which result in a balanced trade in electronics products and are a part of global supply chains. I am happy that the Department of Information Technology is working to create an ecosystem favorable for the growth of electronics manufacturing activities in our country.
I note that this conference has a very futuristic agenda "Internet of People to Internet of Things: The Future of Communication". This is as it should be because we as a country must keep abreast of the latest developments in technology and its applications. I sincerely hope the deliberations in this conference will contribute in this direction and also towards inclusive development of the telecom sector in our country. I wish your deliberations all success."
--IBNS (Posted on 05-12-2013)