People will face poor quality of service in some states and union territories that are levying higher fees for rolling out telecom infrastructure than what prescribed by the central government, a top government official said on Monday. Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said that some states and UTs are charging up to 50 times higher fees from companies for rolling out telecom networks and it will leave people bereft of next-generation services like 5G.
She also expressed concerns over abysmally low utilisation of existing broadband infrastructure rolled out under BharatNet projects in many states despite it being made available to them for free.
"Chattisgarh, Kerala, Rajasthan are to be commended. All remaining states there is practically no utilisation. If states do not utilise this infrastructure then services will not be available for citizens in those states," Sundararajan said.
In a workshop with state governments on implementation of the National Digital Communications Policy, she said states need to improve processes for easing rollout of telecom networks so as to reap the benefit of 5G technology that will have an economic impact to the tune of USD 1 trillion on India alone.
The telecom ministry has enabled optical-fibre based broadband connectivity in 1.2 lakh gram panchayats. The highest number of panchayats ready with broadband services under BharatNet project are in Uttar Pradesh, followed by Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, etc.
However, as per official data, UP has utilised network in 151 panchayats out of 27,919 that are ready with broadband services, Maharashtra 338 out of 15,126 panchayats, Madhya Pradesh 899 out of 12,687, Rajasthan 835 out of 8,451, Punjab 33 out of 7,911, Haryana 13 out of 6,110 panchayats and so on.
"BharatNet can't be successful without strong ownership from states. Whether it is safety of ONT (optical network terminator) or custody of ONT or provision of power, states have to take a proactive role," telecom minister Manoj Sinha said.
The Department of Telecom (DoT) claimed that all states and union territories have attended the workshop.
The telecom secretary said that some union territories are charging up to 50 times more fees than prescribed by the central government for rolling out telecom network in their territory.
"I would draw your attention to Chandigarh, Delhi, Kolkata, other place where they are charging 50 times what Government of India had recommended. This would mean that the quality of services in these area will remain fairly poor...," Sundararajan said.
For moving on to 5G network, there is a need to increase mobile towers by three-folds to over 50 lakh by 2022 from 18 lakh at present and optical fibre cable rollout by four-folds to 55 lakh km in next four years.
"We are talking about 4G and 5G. Please understand if we want 4G and 5G, you would need many more towers, and you would need every tower to be fiberised. Unless you have a policy that enables this, you would not move from 3G to 5G. unless these states bring their Right of Way (policy for permitting telecom infrastructure rollout) charges down," Sundararajan said.
The telecom ministry announced that it is coming with a scheme to incentivise states that show improvement and are ranked in high in broadband network utilisation and facilitate the smooth rollout of telecom networks in their region.
According to the telecom tower industry body, 12 states and UTs have aligned their policies with that of the central government, policies in 14 states are under discussion while there are no uniform policies across 10 states and UTs.