Editorial – July 2018

BSNL CMD Anupam Shrivastava has been sponging off another state-owned company for the travel and tour expenses of his wife, Tripti Shrivastava and son Mohit Shrivastava. This issue brings to our readers bills that have been uncleared for these two members of the Shrivastava family since 2014. The amount is in lakhs and owed to Ashok Travels & Tours, a division of India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC). Ashok travels has written repeatedly, highlighting the CAG notes on the non-payment of such long pending bills. But Mr Shrivastava, who used BSNL’s account to avail credit and travel in India and abroad for his family, isn’t paying up despite repeated reminders.

The other big focus is the DoT design of giving spectrum free in E&V bands for an entry fee of Rs 10,000 only. This spectrum is highly valuable. At 4G auction levels, this works out to atleast Rs 2.57 lakh crore to Rs 6.42 lakh crore, calculated at 2 pc to 5 pc of 4G spectrum cost. Government will lose huge money if DoT’s gameplan is allowed for the benefit of few big select companies. The DoT is misleadingly presenting this as a massive employment generation venture in rural areas owing to rollout of broadband services by Public Data Offices (PDOs). PDOs will not own or deploy infrastructure. They are only venue providers to Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs) who will provide last mile WiFi services through PDOs by setting up WiFi hotspots. PDOAs have no rollout obligations. Their services will be tariff-bearing. It is not a free public hotspot.

After the launch of 4G services, the nature of broadband has completely changed from what it was when Trai came out with its consultation paper in 2016 or recommendations in 2017. Data tariff is just 3 per cent of what it was before 4G launch (Sept 2016), and the handsets have become cheaper. It is all a function of scale.

Not only is the DoT waiving off the spectrum cost for the PDOAs, it is also waiving off license fee, spectrum usage charges, and USO levy. This is sought to be brought about through “authorization” route instead of signing “license” agreement. Allowing Internet services to PDOAs through “authorization” is also not as per the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885. The Prime Minister’s instruction to DoT was – consult with Trai for allocation of E & V bands in the most transparent manner on a non-discriminatory basis. The most transparent manner of allocation is auction. It does not mean administrative allocation.