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India is preparing to overhaul its decade-old telecom policy with the government setting a 100-day action plan in a bid to take the country's scam-hit sector to the next level of growth.|
Security issues have been holding up the launch of third generation mobile telephony services in India.
Some operators had already started offering these services, but they were asked to stop all 3G data services, including high-speed Internet, downloads of music and video clips, chat and internet telephony calls.
The government is concerned that these facilities cannot be intercepted on a real time basis.
It has now given private telcos a conditional nod for offering 3G services, if they can demonstrate that these services can be tapped.
But applications such as video-calling are still on hold pending further review.
Mahesh Prasad, President of Reliance Communications, said: "Its a matter of days is what we understand. The video call on our platform is ready. We have been able to do many test calls across the country. As soon as the clearances are obtained and are given to all operators in the country, we will be announcing video calls and tariffs."
Concerned telcos, who have paid billions of dollars to acquire 3G licences, are eagerly awaiting a government decision.
Operators are also worried about the cut-throat competition, which is hurting their revenue.
The Department of Telecommunications has promised to ease their anxiety with new policy initiatives on spectrum sharing and mergers and acquisitions.
It is holding consultations with stakeholders on areas covering licensing, spectrum allocation and tariffs. It is also talking to ministries of defence and information and broadcasting to get additional spectrum from them.
Indian Telecom Minister Kapil Sibbal said: "The message to the industry is that these are the issues in our mind. We are going to take a decision on these issues. We have the recommendations of TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), we'll keep these recommendations in mind and well move forward quickly on them."
India's telecom sector has recently been hit by several controversies.
The country lost an estimated US$40 billion in revenue due to irregularities in the granting of telecom licences in 2008.
The government hopes to infuse greater transparency, with a new policy in place. It has also set off a clean-up of the industry by issuing notices to telcos on charges of failure to roll out services in time.
So far, the government has collected US$16.5 million as penalties from errant operators.
India's telecom policy dates back to 1999, when the sector was dominated by state monopoly. Today, it has become the world's fastest growing market for mobile phone services. With a new policy, the government hopes to balance cheap tariffs, operator profitability and greater accessibility.