With proliferation of digital platforms and the booming smart phone market, the ‘apps era’ has exploded, bringing in a digital tsunami.

The Digital India program has the potential to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. It envisages providing digital infrastructure as a utility to every individual, delivering governance and services on demand, and enabling digital empowerment of citizens. While the process of digitization might come across as a part of the natural cycle of evolution propelled by technology, the speed of change has been overwhelming, especially for non-millennials.

Specific to the telecom industry, this not only means a sudden surge in data consumption but also adjusting the business model to serve a data-centric market. Today, every service is available or can be accessed from smart phones through apps. As services like communication, banking, e-commerce, e-wallets, utility bill payments, etc., converge on the digital platform, it requires the support of a suitable regulatory framework for a level playing field.

The current telecom regulatory framework aptly caters to the traditional telecom networks, imposing additional cost and regulatory levies for digital services. There have surely been reforms to reflect the changes in technology and innovation but the speed of such reforms has been very slow.

Managing the Digital Tsunami

With proliferation of digital platforms and the booming smart phone market, the ‘apps era’ has exploded, bringing in a digital tsunami. Telcos are surely catching up fast and are investing to leverage the 4G ecosystem. Eventually, it is the quality and speed of executing innovative ideas that would matter for winning this race. But the new business environment also warrants a collaborative approach among various stakeholders to unleash the power of digitization. 

Next year, the National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2017 will be unveiled. It is the right opportunity to incorporate elements of digital regulations in the policy. Here are some areas that can help fast track the transition:

Re-structure licensing agreements. The unified license agreement that governs telecom operators is a 170-page manual. The agreement is a remnant of the license raj regime. Though it is very comprehensive, it needs a relook to meet the requirements of new-age businesses. The vision of Digital India requires a crisp and precise framework that removes confusion and brings in efficiency.

Take a global approach. Digital world transcends boundaries – political and geographical. Hence, we need to take a global approach while formulating digital regulations. There are areas where policy flexibility is required. However, mission-critical areas such as privacy, rights of the citizens, and security of the nation should be non-negotiable. There should be enough scope in the regulations to allow hosting of network elements across geographies while taking advantage of economy of scale. There should be freedom to get consumer insights using data analytics to serve the markets of the future.

Same service, same rule. The current sets of digital regulations were formulated for vertical functions but today with convergence of services, horizontal ecosystems are emerging fast and there is no unified set of regulations to govern such new ecosystems. There is a need to rewrite these rules based on services and functionality. These should be applicable equally to all players operating in the digital domain. This will also ensure a level playing field for all.

One-step approval. Lot of progress has already been made in terms of going paperless – biometric SIM activation, e-verification, and online approval of licensing agreements to name a few. However, the digital journey has just begun. The department of telecommunications, as the enabler of Digital India, is actively engaging with the industry to make the regulations simple and easy to understand and implement. The government should now focus on providing the right digital policy framework and tools to accelerate the process of digitization. One of the key tasks will be pro-active collaboration with the finance ministry, RBI, and TRAI to drive the common digital agenda with common minimum levies on all players in the digital ecosystem.

We are at the cusp of transitioning into a new world of digital opportunities that can transform consumer lives. A little encouragement and support from policy makers and regulators can help ‘massify’ Digital India and achieve the desired result of inclusive growth by creating a conducive and competitive environment.

 


 

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