He dreams of reversing the Indian rupee: US dollar exchange rate. The father of the first Indian telecom technology-corDECT wireless in the local loop (See A global winner) Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, head, Electrical Engineering Department, Indian Institute of Technology voices his agenda for the new telecom minister.
Bring in rural service provider concept
There seems to have been a de-emphasis on rural connectivity during the previous government's regime. The ushering in of the unified licence regime saw the rural connectivity obligation of telecom players getting 'disconnected'. When this was pointed out, it was said that the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) would look after rural telephony and the universal service obligation fund would take care of the expenditure.
Here it should be noted that when BSNL had the monopoly, there was hardly any service quality and whatever was offered came at a high cost. And if you now say that rural areas should be left to the BSNL then we go back to having a monopoly, once again, where the casualty will be service quality with low cost service to the rural people.
It is important to bring in a new category of telecom service providers called the rural service provider (RSP) to cater exclusively to the rural areas. The proposal is doing the rounds within the government for the past several months. RSP should be brought to the fore now.
Affordable hardware to expand broadband
The focus on increasing the broadband penetration is welcome. But broadband will get popular only when we have a low cost device. The mobile phone service didn't score high when the handset cost was Rs20,000 and the per minute tariff was around Rs16. The cell phone service caught the people's imagination only when they got a handset for Rs2,000 and the per minute call charge came down to Re1 or below.
If broadband has to flourish we should have a personal computers available for Rs.5,000. Today the cost of a PC is nearly half the annual salary of an average worker. On the other hand if status quo prevails then broadband access will be restricted to the upper echelons of society. The agenda for the new government should be to develop a low cost PC to push up internet penetration.
E-governance - get it right
The whole e-governance programme is all-wrong. It is focused on buying expensive equipment from a handful of vendors. What we should look at is the affordability at our income levels. Computerisation can make a difference only when it is considered an inexpensive tool, available to everyone just like the paper and the pen. This tool has to be made simple and government employees must be made to feel comfortable while using it.
The key issue here is that computerisation should reach government employees at all levels, down to each taluka. However, this constitutes only half the task, especially when one is concerned with e-governance for the rural poor of India. The programme has to be supplemented with an effective programme that ensures that the internet reaches every village in India.
Make BSNL and MTNL autonomous
With competition raging, the existence of BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) is already being threatened. It will be too late to take any remedial measures if we continue to live in the belief that nothing will happen. So make the two organisations autonomous under a strong board. Today the full time directors are given that position for a short period. No strong organisation can be built if this status continues and that too in a competitive market.
Further, the two organisations continue to think that they can do everthing. They don't want to outsource activities or partner with others to expand their market. Further their employee cost is also high. The two companies are going to be in serious trouble if sufficient action is not taken immediately.
Encourage public-private R&D initiatives
By and large we have discouraged and even destroyed Indian R&D and production. The government should actively encourage public-private partnership in R&D, say like the IIT / TelNet and couple of other private companies.
Domestic companies should be encouraged with suitable policies. Today the import duties are higher for India's own corDECT telephony technology than what is charged on imported technologies. It should be remembered that we cannot grow on 100 per cent imports.
In the technology sector we need to focus on a few areas to become world's best. India can become the world's best in five to ten areas. Yet, we are reluctant to support public-private initiatives.