Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cross Talk on Spectrum Refarming-TRAI asked to give its View


Cross Talk on Spectrum Refarming-TRAI asked to give its View

2G services and spectrum bands

The 2G GSM mobile services in India are provided by the telecom operators utilizing the two spectrum bands 900 MHz band and 1800 MHz bands allotted to them. While the early entrants in the business (who were issued license before 2001) - Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, BSNL and MTNL  were issued 2G spectrum at first in 900 MHz band and thereafter in 1800 MHz band and hence got spectrum in both these bands, the later entrants like Tata, Reliance in GSM 2G services business were allotted spectrum only in 1800 MHz band since the 900 MHz band spectrum was allotted fully to the earlier entrants and hence not available.

900 MHz band more efficient than 1800 MHz band

But the 900 MHz band spectrum is efficient and superior compared to 1800 MHz band. Because the 900 MHz band has lesser wabe length, it will travel more distance and the signals transimitted on 900 MHz band are more potent for indoor coverage. 900 MHz band is 30-40 per cent better in coverage compared to 1800 MHz. Since the wave length is more in 1800 MHz band spectrum, its coverage is not as effective as 900 MHz band. Therefore more number of BTSs are required for the same area for 1800 MHz band spectrum compared to 900 MHz band spectrum. Thus 900 MHz band spectrum is cost effective since less number of BTSs is required.

The 900 MHz band is superior to 1800 MHz band on another count. Since the 900 MHz band is in use worldwide for the last 20 years, technology developed for operating the services utilising that band has become standardised and more developed. Even 4G broadband services also can be provided on 900 MHz band spectrum with less cost equipment.  But the existing license condition is preventing the provision of 4G services on 900 MHz band since as per the license condition only 2G GSM services are to be provided on this band. Once the license is renewed after the expiry of the present license or any new operator enters afresh with a new license and in case the Company with the renewed/new license has this 900 MHz band spectrum, it can provide 4G services also utilizing it.

Decision of the TRAI on Spectrum Refarming

Hence the Companies having 900 MHz band are demanding that they should be allowed to retain their 900 MHz band spectrum as it is on renewal of their license after the expiry of the present license period. They are ready to pay the market discovered price for this 900 MHz band spectrum for thir renewed license period. Market discovered price is the price found in the auction of the spectrum band. Airtel and Vodafone are having the 900 MHz band spectrum and their present license period will be over by 2014/15. They want that on the expiry of their license period, the 900 MHz band spectrum should not be taken away from them and they should be allowed to retain it for the next 20 years of their renewed license period starting with 2014/15. They are willing to pay the market price for it.

 But the Telecom Commission recently in its meeting held on 19-10-2012 has decided that on the expiry of their license period in 2014/15 for the telecom operators like Airtel and Vodafone,  the following will happen to the 900 MHz band and 1800 MHz band spectrum held by them:

(a)    900 MHz band spectrum will entirely be taken away from the telecom operators and if they want to have it in their next license period starting with 2014/15, they have to get it by purchasing it by participating in the auction to be held for selling the 900 MHz band. Thus on expiry of their license period, if they renew their license once again for another 20 years, they have to get 900 MHz band spectrum by participating in the auction. Otherwise they cannot have the 900 MHz band spectrum.
(b)   They can retain their existing 1800 MHz band spectrum fully without participating in the auction, by paying the market price for it.

(c)    If they are unable to get the 900 MHz band spectrum in the auction, then they will be allotted 1800 MHz band spectrum in the place of the 900 MHz band spectrum held by them earlier. They have to pay the market price for the 1800 MHz band spectrum.

(d)   This process of taking away the 900 MHz band spectrum from the operators having it on expiry of their license period and reallotting it on the basis of auction and replacing the 900 MHz band spectrum with 1800 MHz band spectrum in case the operator is not able to get back the 900 MHz band spectrum, is named as “Spectrum Refarming”.

Cross Talk due to clash of interests

But the Airtel and Vodafone are saying that if they have to replace their 900 MHz band spectrum with 1800 MHz band spectrum on expiry of their present license period, they have to replace their entire network built up for the 900 MHz band spectrum with a new network for 1800 MHz band spectrum and it will cost around Rs 1,00,000 crore for them. They are also arguing that in case they ahve to get 900 MHz band spectrum afresh for their renewed license period of 20 years starting with 2014/15, they have to pay around Rs 1,50,000 crore for it. They are saying both options are costly and it will lead to a huge increase in tariffs for the customers. Hence they are demanding that they should be allowed to retain thee 900 MHz band spectrum held by them at present, even for the renewed license period, so that they need not replace their present networks built up for 900 MHz band spectrum. They are willing to pay the market price for the 900 MHz band spectrum for the next license period.

This argument of Airtel, Vodafone etc is opposed by Tata, Reliance Com who are not having 900 MHz band spectrum. They are arguing that the Airtel and Vodafone are provided with the efficient 900 MHz band spectrum whereas they are deprived of the same and hence there is discrimination. They demand that there should be equality and level playing ground among all the players. Therefore thee decision of the Telecom Commission for taking away the entire 900 MHz band spectrum held by Airtel, Vodafone etc on expiry of their license period in 2014/15 and selling it in auction is correct since it gives equal opportunity to all to get the 900 MHz band spectrum by participating in the aauction. They are arguing that the Airtel and Vodafone cannot have a perpetual right on the highly efficient 900 MHz band spectrum.

Endangering the survival of BSNL and MTNL

BSNL and MTNL are also having 900 MHz band spectrum. But their present license period is upto 2020 and 2017 respectively. Hence immediately there is no problem for them. But those who will get  900 MHz band spectrum afresh or on renewal of their present license on its expiry, which will happen in 2014/15, will be able to provide 4G services using the 900 MHz band spectrum. But BSNL and MTNL will not be able to provide 4G services inspite of having 900 MHz band spectrum since the present license condition prevents providing services other than 2G services on 900 MHz band. If other operators start providing 4G services in a big way using 900 MHz band spectrum and BSNL and MTNL are not able to provide the 4G services, then they cannot survive in the competition. If BSNL and MTNL want to provide 4G services along with other operators in 2014/15, they have to surrender their 900 MHz band spectrum before the expiry of their license period and get it afresh in the auction, by the year 2014. Both these   options, that is,(a)  continuing with the 900 MHz band spectrum until the expiry of present license period in 2020/20117 without the eligibility for providing 4G services on 900 MHz band or (b) surrendering the 900 MHz band spectrum and get it back by pauying a huge amount (more than Rs 20000 crores) in the auction so as to be able to provide 4G services, are suicidal for BSNL and MTNL since they cannot withstand the competition without providing 4G services and at the same time they are not in a position to pay the huge amount of money required to get 900 MHz band spectrum afresh to be able to provide 4 G services, because of their  continuous and increasing losses.

Lobbying by the two groups of the Private Operators

The Airtel, Vodafone etc  are lobbying  against the decision of the Telecom Commission on spectrum reefarming and mounting  pressure on the Government .  They demanded that they should be allowed to retain the 900 MHz band spectrum for the next term of their license period also, by paying the market price. They are lobbying for their point, in the name of COAI(Cellular Operators Association of India).

On the other hand the Tata and Relaince are lobbying in the name of AUSPI(Association of Unified Services Providers of India. They are supporting the Telecom Commission’s decision that the 900 MHz band spectrum should eb fully taken away from Airtel, Vodafone etc on expiry of their license period and it should be put on auction so that they get equal chance for participating in the auction. They also are pressurising the Prime Minister and others.

Enter Sri Ahluwalia

Meanwhile, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Sri  Montek Singh Ahluwalia, wrote a letter to the Finance Minister P.Chidambaram against the decision of the Telecom Commission on spectrum refarming. He demanded that the issue be referred to TRAI for its reconsideration since there is no clear road map for the spectrum refarming. This is in support of the COAI (Airtel, Vodafone etc).

Finance Ministry for more money in spectrum auction

Adding to this controversy, Sri Arvind Mayaram, the Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs in the Finance Ministry wrote a letter to the Department of Telecom suggesting that on expiry of the license period, not only the 900 MHz band, but also the 1800 MHz band spectrum should be taken back by the Government fully from the concerned telecom operators and both bands should be put up for auction and who ever is successful, will get these bands. No Company should be given the perpetual right to hold the spectrum in any band, whether in 900 or 1800 MHz. Therefore the Telecom Commission’s decision for taking away the 900 MHz band spectrum only while retaining the 1800 MHz band spectrum with the operators whose present license period expires, is not correct and should be reviewed. He debunked the argument that the replacement of the network built up for 900 MHz band spectrum with tne network for 1800 MHz band spectrum for those not able to get 900 MHz band spectrum in the auction will impose heavy cost. He told that in any case, due to constant technological upgradations, the networks are frequently replaced in telecom sector and hence there is no point in the argument regarding the cost of replacing the network for 900 MHz band with network for 1800 MHz band.

DoT dials TRAI for a solution

After getting bombarded with all these arguments and facing all these pressures, the DoT asked the TRAI to give its view afresh on various options regarding this process of refarming, including the issue whether any part of the spectrum can be allowed to be retained by the operator on expiry of the license period, for the next term of the license. DoT asked TRAI to give its view before the next meeting of the EGoM(Empowered Group of Ministers) where a decision has to be taken finally.

What about the fate of BSNL and MTNL

But what ever is the recommendation of the TRAI and the decision of the EGoM regarding private operators, it is necessary to allow spectrum in any band, whether 900 Mhz band or 1800 Mhz band, free of cost, without any payment, to BSNL and MTNL along with liberalization for the use of these spectrum bands, to provide 4G services or any service with any technology. Otherwise the BSNL and MTNL cannot survive by paying such huge amounts for spectrum. This is justified since the BSNL and MTNL, as PSUs are carrying out several social obligations, even by facing huge losses. For example, by maintaining the huge, but necessarily loss making landline network, the BSNL and MTNL are providing fixed wireline broadband services throughout the country and without them, the broadband services development to the present level would have been impossible, since the private operators are not interested in installing and maintaining pan India landline network for providing broadband services, since it is loss making. Also, the BSNL and MTNL are the “State” as per the Constitution and hence the State can exempt itself from such payments for spectrum, while imposing the payments on the privatee operators. The argument of level playing ground between the private operators and Public Sector Operators is not valid since the purpose of their existence is entirely different. The private operators are for profit whereas the PSUs are not merely for profit, they are there to serve the society even by incurring losses.

Nationalization real solution

Spectrum is a scare natural resource. There cannot be any real level playing ground in allotting the spectrum in view of the constantly changing technological upgradations since equality cannot be maintained in all respects in its allocation among the telecom operators. It will create serious struggles, corrupt practices, and preventing full usage of thee spectrum for the benefit of society. The only way for the full utilization for the benefit of society is to nationalize telecom services so that only the PSU operators are there with spectrum allotted to them free of cost by the Government, so that the services can be provided at less cost to the people.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Does the Left Have an Alternative?


There is a widespread view that the Left in India only criticize the policies of the Government, without showing any alternative. This needs to be discussed.

But what is the meaning of “alternative”? The policies followed at present by the Government of India are the policies required by the Indian capitalists lead by the big capitalists. To maintain their profits, in the present global situation, the Indian capitalists have to collaborate and integrate  more and more with the international finance capital. Hence the policies of the UPA Government (earlier the NDA Government) or the Government of any party or combination of parties representing the interests of the Indian capitalists will go in this direction only. This is the reason why the Manmohan Singh Government recently announced several decisions like allowing FDI in retail trade, increasing the prices of petrole, cooking gas etc, opening up of pension and insurance sectors to global finance capital etc. These decisions are for appeasing the international finance capital. It is needed because the Indian capitalists needed it for the sake of their profits. In this context, “alternative” means breaking away from this correlation between the Indian capitalists and the international finance capital. It is breaking away from this given situation. It is possible only with a struggle. It is not possible within the given situation. Therefore no real alternative is possible within the given situation, within the given relation existing between the Indian capitalists and the international finance capital.

But at the same time, the alternative proposed by the Left cannot be a call for socialism, for which the conditions are not yet ready. The balance of force between the ruling classes and the people are not yet ready for it. The conditions are yet to be built up. But at the same time the alternative cannot be simply accepting the broad requirements of the Indian capitalist classes and suggesting some minor changes in it. If the Left accepts the constraints of the ruling classes and then makes certain demands on that basis, it cannot be alternative; it can be only the replication of the policies of the ruling classes.

The alternative proposed by the Left in the present context cannot be for overthrowing the present system for establishing socialism. At the same time it cannot be within the purview of accepting the constraints of the Indian capitalists. It is some thing realisable with in the present system of society dominated by the capitalists and landlords, but at the same time not as per the present day requirements of the ruling classes (capitalists and landlords). It is a transitional demand, a demand that can be realised within the system, but only by means of a serious struggle against the ruling classes. It is a demand which people want and which the people believe to be capable of realisation.

What can be such a demand which is the real alternative, being proposed by the Left and which the people can accept as a credible programme? Does such a real alternative exist today and if so whether the Left are championing and struggling for it?

The answer is yes. The Left has been raising a number of demands over the last several months and these entire demands together amount to an alternative economic agenda. The Left is not simply rejecting the reforms of Manmohan Singh Government. They are also proposing the alternative. What it is?

The alternative proposed by the Left is creation of a mechanism for universal access to a set of basic minimum provisions to all citizens. The Left demanded universal access to food (on which it has carried out agitations), universal access to employment (with the left lead Governments taking initiative to introduce urban employment guarantee schemes), free and compulsory primary education, free and universal access to healthcare, old age pensions and care for the handicapped and disabled.

But all these demands are not the core demands of the Left’s alternative agenda where the main issues are radical land reforms and other fundamental changes. These demands for access to basic provisions are only the starting point of the alternative. There is already the public discussion on these demands related to the basic provisions of food, health, employment, education, pension etc. But the Government is desperately trying to waterdown the existing facilities regarding these basic provisions.

While the ruling classes (capitalists and landlords) and the Governments at the centre and the states representing their interests are going ahead with various measures for diluting the existing provisions regarding the basic amenities, the Left’s alternative starts with a fight for protecting and enhancing the provisions regarding basic necessities. The institutionalisation (making laws and creating institutions for their implementation) of universal access to food, education,. Employment, healthcare, old age security and care for the physically handicapped,  is realisable with in the present social system, although the ruling classes are against it.

A doubt may arise in this regard. If the ruling classes are against the institutionalization of the universal access to these provisions, then how the Manmohan Singh Government enacted MNREGA (law for providing employment in rural areas), introduced the RSVY (Rashtriya Swasthya Vikas Yojana), enacted the  right to education, and now  working out the food security legislation? Yes, the ruling classes are doing some thing regarding all these issues. But what is that? It is nothing but diluting even the existing measures, instead of making these provisions universally accessible.

Despite enactment of the Right to Education, a large proportion of children continue to be out of school, doing all sorts of menial jobs for their survival. The RSVY, instead of providing universal ccess to health care, is meant for siphoning the money of the Government to the private hospitals and insurance companies. Even the MNREGS (Rural employment guarantee scheme) which the UPA Government was forced to enact when it was dependent on the support of the Left, is now being diluted to a large extent making it a shadow of its former self. The fact is that the necessities of the ruling classes do not allow universal access to such provisions and if they are forced to introduce some limited measures, they also take steps to dismantle them as early as possible.

What is the cost of making the universal access to all citizens to the basic provisions of food, education, healthcare, employment and old age security? Whether the resources are available to meet this cost?

The cost of subsidy for  providing universal access to 35 kg of food grains to every family per month at Rs 2/- per kilo will be Rs 1,20,000 crore per year.

The cost of Universal Employment Guarantee Scheme will be Rs 80,000 crore per year.

The implementation of right to education making primary education compulsory and free to all will cost Rs 40,000 crore per year.

A comprehensive health care scheme for all will cost Rs 1,00,000 crore per year.

A universal old age pension scheme which provides a pension of Rs 2000 per month per person for around 8 crore beneficiaries will cost Rs 1,92,000 crore per year.

Altogether, the universal access to these five basic provisions will cost Rs 5,32,000 crore per year.

If the State support for the physically handicapped is also taken into account, the total expenditure will be Rs 6,00,000  crore per year. But already some expenditure is being incurred for food subsidy, Rural Employment Guarantee, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan etc and therefore the additional expenditure for institutionalising the  universal access to these five basic provisions and support to the physically handicapped  will be Rs 5,00,000 crore per year. This is 5 per cent of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product). An expenditure target of this magnitude is entirely realisable.

This Rs 5,00,000 crore per year required to provide universal access to food, education, employment, health care, old age pension and support to the physically disabled is not more than the concessions given to the rich and the corporate in the budget per year, in the last few budgets of the Central Government.

But it is not possible to give tax concessions to the rich to the extent of Rs 5,00,000 crore per year and also to provide universal access to the basic provisions at the cost of Rs 5,00,000 crore per year. If one is done, the other cannot be done. The neo-liberal policies required by the Indian capitalists and being implemented by the Government representing their interests are necessarily denying the universal provisioning of these basic necessities. On the other hand, these policies will impose more and more burdens on the people.

Therefore to get the Left’s alternative of implementing the universal provision of basic necessities, the neo-liberal policies favouring the rich and corporate are to be reversed. It is possible only through a struggle. If the path of the struggle is abandoned, the alternative will appear as   impracticable.

If these demands for universal provision of basic necessities are achieved either by compelling the ruling classes to accept for these demands or if the Left can implement them by the limited access to power that is allowed to it with in the present system, then more radical demands can be raised and struggles can be organised around such demands.

(This is a note prepared by me on the article “Does the Left have an Alternative” written by the well known Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik and published in “Peoples’ Democracy” October 28, 2012 issue. For this article, see the website “pd.cpim.org”---P.Asokababu)


Thursday, October 25, 2012

What will happen to the spectrum held by the telecom companies when their license period is over?


The 20 years loicense period for the existing license will be over by 2014/15 for Airtel, Vodafone and by 2017 for MTNL and 2020 for BSNL. When the license period is over by 2014 for Airtel or Vodafone for any circle, what will happen to the spectrum held by them?

For the 2G GSM services, the spectrum is held by these Companies in 900 MHz band and 1800 MHz band.  As per the existing guidelines, the 900 MHz band spectrum has to be surrendered entirely on completion of the license period and if the Company wants it again, it has to  get it in the auction. The 1800 MHz band spectrum can be retained, but the Company has to pay the market rate (to be determined in the auction to be held in November 2012) for it. In case the Company does not want the 900 MHz spectrum once again on completion of its license period, it can get it replaced by 1800 MHz band spectrum by paying the market price. But in such case it has to replace its network constructed earlier for 900 MHz band spectrum with a new network suitable for 1800 MHz band spectrum.

Now the Finance Ministry wants that the 1800 MHz band spectrum also should be taken away from the Company on completion of license period and the Company has to get it back by participating in the auction. As per the argument of the Finance AMinistry, the towers need not be constructed by any telecom company now since there are separate tower companies from whom they can be taken on rent, and the active infrastructure requiring technology will not be required for more than 20 years since the technology is becoming obsolete every few years in telecom sector and hence any how it needs to be replaced every few years. The Cabinet has to take a final decision in this regard.                             


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

EGoM agrees in principle for the “rescue” of BSNL and MTNL, but without neither exempting BSNL from the huge payment nor the Government expending any money for it!


As per the report that appeared in the “Business Standard”, on 23-10-2012, the EGoM (Empowered Group of Ministers agreed in principle for the rescue of BSNL and MTNL. BSNL and MTNL have to pay a minimum of Rs 6250 crore and Rs 4240 crore for the spectrum they are holding beyond 4.4. MHz. They have to pay one third of this amount soon, in November/December and the remaining amount in monthly in annual instalments. The private operators also have to pay for the spectrum they are holding beyond 4.4. MHz, but their amounts will be less. BSNL and MTNL have sought for exemption from this payment since they are in losses and cannot pay the amount and at the same time, the spectrum they are holding beyond 4.4 MHz has to be continued for serving the subscribers.

The EGoM has agreed for this in principle , but with the condition that there should not be any cash outgo for the Government for this purpose. But how is it possible? It is said that once the Cabinet approves for the rescue in principle, it will be worked out subsequently. It appears that the Government will not exempt BSNL from the payment directly, since any such exemption will be opposed by the Private operators. Then what can be done? Whether it means anypayment due to be made by the Government to BSNL will be adjusted against this amount? The BSNL has returnedback the BWA spectrum purchased by it for Rs 8500 crore. The Government has to refund this. It is not done so far. Whether rescue means Government adjusting this money to be paid by it to BSNL against the amount to be paid by BSNL for the excess spectrum? This is not rescuing since  BSNL actually pays the money in such case to the Government from the money due to it from the Government. What can be the other options? It will be nothing but an attack on BSNL in one or another form.

Therefore unless the Government clearly gives exemption to BSNL from this payment, there will be no real rescue for BSNL.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Malala, All of Us

( Write up by G.Mamata, printed in “Peoples’Democracy”October 21, 2012 issue)

I HAVE recently seen a photograph of Malala Yousafzai. She reminded me of myself in my childhood. Surprisingly, that is what many of my friends – girls – also felt. It is not the physical resemblance that made us all feel that we too were Malalas to an extent. It is the travails that had made us all feel Malala.

Malala Yousafzai is a 14 year old girl, studying in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Just like many of us in our younger days, and like our children now, she too is a school-going child. And that was not a small crime. And even more bigger crime that she committed was encouraging her fellow girls to study. Crimes don’t go unpunished. Particularly in those lands where fanatics tread. Punished she was. Shot. Along with her, two more girls were injured. But she was the target. And she is struggling for her life.

In Afghanistan, and now increasingly in Pakistan, education for girls has become so dear. With the spurge in Taliban and other fundamentalist forces, thanks to the US and its petty interests, it became a matter of life and death. Girls who had failed to heed to the threats are attacked with impunity. Acid was thrown, faces disfigured and were even raped and killed. Their families are tortured. Videos were shot to spread the ‘message’. With the spread of extremist influence and violence in Pakistan, these incidents are becoming a regular feature there too. Malala is not the first and might not be the last. Fundamentalists are wrongly invoking religion and scriptures to defend their actions.

This phenomenon is not confined to a particular religion or society. Girls’ education is always a challenge. Have we not experienced it in India? Or, are we still not experiencing it? It’s not about ancient India where girls along with Shudras (and of course, Panchamas) were not allowed to, forget education, even listen to Vedas. Girls fought. There was a Gargi then. As recently as in the last century, we have had Savitribai Phule. Today, we don’t know their names, but their ilk are many. Don’t you remember the dalit girl – a girl and a dalit – in Odisha who was not allowed to study by the upper castes in her village? She resisted. She fought. And the State was compelled to give her police protection to continue her education. The scene where two policemen used to ride bicycles along with her, accompanying her to the school, was an inspiration in itself. And, of course, a pointer to the dismal state of affairs.

There was a girl in Andhra Pradesh. A brilliant student she was. She was in her tenth standard. And she needed money for paying her examination fee. Her mother was a domestic help. It was above her means to give her daughter the money. The girl tried mobilising money in her town, but in vain. She thought her aunt might help. Walked for over 30 kms and walked back disheartened. The next day, she left all of us disheartened. It’s a question of 100 rupees and she paid it with her life.

And we know of the two girls in Kerala. They were a bit more lucky. They cleared their plus two. Joined engineering colleges. The banks who pester us with pesky calls offering car loans, refused them educational loan. Banks wanted collateral. The girls didn’t have any. The only collateral that they could offer was their life. They offered it, jumping down from the multi-storeyed buildings.

In Britain, until Tony Blair became the prime minister, public education was free. He, representing the ‘New Labour’, directed for fee collection. It was a huge blow. So huge that girls started ‘dancing’. Pole dancing, strip dancing – all against their conscience, just to earn a few pounds to pay their school fees. There were a few more who sold their ova, to study in the schools.

These are not the only odds that the girls had to endure. They are all Malalas. And there are many more who are fighting sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is one crime ie, beating the inflation rate in its growth story. Some of our netas have the audacity to speak gobbledygook. A ‘firebrand’ woman leader committed to ‘poribortan’ says it is because girls and boys are intermingling freely nowadays. Another of her brethren says, it is because of eating chowmein. The other one, not to be left far behind, chips in with the suggestion to marry off girls early. And all of them agree that it is girls who were and are responsible for all the crimes that are committed upon them. Be it their dress or their attitude. They simply refuse to see, if at all they have eyes that can see, the rapes of months old babies and octogenarian grannies. Blame it on girls. So kill them even before they are born. Punish the victim. Spare the criminal.

In buses, metro, train, auto, walking, standing, in the classroom, in the work place, and even in the house – no place it appears to be safe. Lewd comments, obscene gestures, unwarranted touches, unleashing the beasts... that seems to be the norm. And blame it all upon the girls. And where is the ‘safe’ place? Neither the womb nor the world! This patriarchal society assigns a single safe spot for girls/women – grave. All of us are Malalas.

It is braving all these odds that girls are coming out to study. Their fight is against fundamentalism of all hues – caste and religion included. Fundamentalists help imperialism and imperialism helps fundamentalism. They feed on unemployment, poverty and economic inequalities. It is only by fighting all such vices can the world be made a more just place. Malala is an example. She fought the fundamentalists.  And she is now fighting for her life.

Malala’s life might be saved by giving her the best medical attention and treatment. But how will the society she dreamt of will be built? It’s an emergency. Join. Rush the patient – the society – to the operation theatre. Perform a surgery, ensure a systemic change. We are the doctors and nurses. We are all Malalas. We can cure this malignant tumour – with medicines and scalpels.

                                                  




Sunday, October 21, 2012

Spectrum should not be allowed to kill BSNL/MTNL


How the spectrum which is nothing but the electro magnetic waves in the air can kill BSNL or MTNL? Spectrum as it is cannot kill. But the decisions being taken by the Government on spectrum are going to kill BSNL and MTNL. These decisions are going to be finalized before 12th November 2012. The only way to avoid this killing of BSNL and MTNL is to stop the Government from implementing such decisions.

The EGoM (Empowered Group of Ministers) that met on 08.10.2012 has recommended that all the existing telecom services companies have to pay a one time fee for the spectrum they are holding beyond 4.4 MHz, prospectively for the remaining period of their present license. This will come into effect from the date of approval of this recommendation by the Cabinet.What will be this amount to be paid by the telecom companies? The amount depends on the price to be found in the auction to be held in November 2012 for the 2G spectrum. The minimum price decided by the Government for this auction is Rs 14000 crore for 5 MHz spectrum for all the circles in the country. At this minimum price, for the remaining period of its license which is upto 2020, BSNL has to pay Rs 6250 crore and in this, one third has to be paid immediately and the remaining amount in annual instalments. If the auction found price for the spectrum is more, it has to pay still more. At the same time Airtel, Vodafone etc will pay less for the spectrum they are holding beyond 4.4 MHz since their license period of 20 years will be over in 2014/15 etc. Due to the refusal of the Government to grant mobile license for DoT/BSNL until 2000, the BSNL got 2G spectrum free of cost till now, only for 12 years and it has to pay the above said huge sum for its remaining license period of 8 years. On the other hand, the private operators like Airtel, Vodafone etc who were given license in 1994/95 enjoyed the 2G spectrum at no cost or nominal cost till now for 17/18 years and they now have to pay only for the remaining 2/3 years of their present license period.

Again, on 18.10.2012, the EGoM decided that the telecom operators have to pay the amount for the spectrum they are holding beyond 6.2 MHz for the period July 2008 to till now. BSNL also has to pay this amount.

The amount to be paid by BSNL on account of these two decisions will be, in any case, around Rs 6500 crore at the minimum and it may increase also if the price for spectrum in the auction goes up.

On 19.10.2012 the Telecom Commission has taken a decision regarding the contentious issue of spectrum refarming. Refarming means taking away the spectrum in a particular band from the telecom companies having it and then redistributing it to who ever purchases it in the auction. At present the 2G services are given on 2G spectrum in two bands-900 MHz band and 1800 MHz band. Among these two bands, 900 MHz band is of high quality since the equipment cost required for it is less compared to 1800 MHz band, and also 4G services can be given on the 900 MHz band by using LTE technology at less cost. But the present license condition is preventing the provision of services other than 2G services on this 900 MHz and also on 1800 MHz band. The operators who were given license for mobile services before 2001 were initially allotted the 2G spectrum in 900 MHz band and their equipment cost was less. Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL and MTNL were allotted with spectrum in 900 MHz band. But it was exhausted by 2001 and the companies that were allotted 2G permits since 2001 were allotted with spectrum in 1800 MHz band only and they had to incur more cost for the equipment. The Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL and MTNL are having spectrum in 900 MHz band as well as in 1800 MHz band since they were allotted spectrum initially in 900 MHz band and when it was over, in 1800 MHz band.

The operators like Tata, Reliance and others who entered   GSM 2G services since 2001 or there after were provided with spectrum in 1800 MHz band only. They are complaining that there was no level playing field since Airtel, Vodafone etc got the advantage of providing services by incurring less cost for equipment due to the allotment of 900 MHz band whereas they had to incur more cost for equipment since they were allotted spectrum only in 1800 MHz band. Hence they are demanding that the spectrum in 900 MHz band allotted to only to a few operators should be redistributed to avoid this discrimination.

After the judgment of the Supreme Court cancelling 122 licenses for 2G spectrum, the TRAI, as per the directive of the Supreme Court, gave certain recommendations on the auction of the spectrum including on the refarming (redistribution) of 900 MHz band spectrum. Based on these recommendations, as said above, on 19-10-2012, the Telecom Commission has taken a decision regarding the refarming of the 900 MHz band spectrum. As per this decision, the 900 MHz band spectrum allotted to the few companies Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL, MTNL will be taken back by the Government on expiry of their present license period and it will be auctioned so that all the telecom companies will get a chance for acquiring it in the auction. The present license period of Airtel, Vodafone will be over by 2014/15. Therefore the entire quantity of 900 MHz band spectrum with them will be taken away by 2014/15 and it will be auctioned. But the auction will be held in advance in 2013 itself so that the buyer will get the 900 MHz band spectrum immediately in 2014/15 without any delay. Therefore there are two options before Airtel and Vodafone. Either they have to participate in the auction and get the minimum 5 MHz quantity of 900 MHz band spectrum for their next license period starting in 2014/15 so that they can continue thir services on their existing network built for the 900 MHz band spectrum. If they do not want it, then they have to replace their existing network with a new network suitable for 1800 MHz band spectrum. Both options will be costly and each of them  may have to incur more than Rs 20000 crores for this purpose. That is why they are opposing the decision of the Telecom Commission and demanding the Government not to accept it so that they can continue with their 900 MHz band spectrum by paying less  amount.

What about BSNL? The license period of BSNL will be over by 2020. Therefore until 2020 it can continue to have the 900 MHzx band spectrum without any extra payment. But there is a problem here. The present license condition allows only 2G services on 900 MHz band spectrum. The operators who acquire it again on the expiry of their license in 2014/15 or the operators, who acquire it afresh, will be allowed to provide any service including 4G services on 900 MHz band using any technology including LTE technology. Thus they will go ahead with providing 4G services. Since the trend in telecom business is increase in the revenue for data services and decrease in the revenue for voice services, whichever company provides 4G services with highspeed data will gain more and whichever company is unable to provide 4G services will lose more. Therefore to with stand in the competition it is necessary for BSNL also to start providing 4G services along with others. To do this, it has to get its 900 MHz band spectrum liberalized, that is, it has to pay the same amount as per the price to be discovered in the auction in2013 for the 900 MHz band spectrum and have it for 20 years since 2014 so that it also will be allowed to provide 4G services from 2014. Hence it has to pay an amount which may be more than Rs 20,000 crore for this purpose.

Recently Airtel has started providing 4G services by utilising the BWA spectrum it got in 2300 MHz band. BSNL also got BWA spectrum by paying Rs 8500 crore to the Government in 2010. But it was in 2600 MHz band which was not suitable for providing 4G services utilizing the cost effective LTE technology. Therefore it   surrendered   it to the Government, but the Government not yet refunded the amount. Hence the only way for BSNL to provide 4G services along with other operators is to get its 900 MHz band spectrum liberalized by paying the huge amount of more than Rs 20,000 crores.

Thus, BSNL has to pay a huge amount of more than 27000 crores on account of these payments for spectrum over and above 4.4 MHz, 6.5 MHz and for spectrum liberalization. When it is already in heavy losses since the past 3 years and when its cash reserves are finished, where from it can get this money? It has to take a huge loan for this, but the servicing of such a loan will be difficult in view of its heavy losses. Therefore these decisions on spectrum will kill BSNL as a PSU. Spectrum has thus become a tool In the hands of the policy makers to kill the PSUs BSNL and MTNL.

But these are not the finalized decisions. These are subject to the final decision of the Cabinet. The Cabinet has to take the final decision on these issues before the starting of the auction of the 1800 MHz band spectrum on 12th November 2012. The only way to save BSNL is to get exemption from these payments for the spectrum exceeding 4.4 MHz/6.2 MHz and for spectrum liberalization. The private operators are demanding the Government not to give any such exemption to BSNL. They are creating pressure on the Government. It is now the time for the Unions and Associations of BSNL, MTNL as well as the managements of the BSNL and MTNL to fight and get the exemption from these payments. Otherwise there will be no scope for the survival of BSNL and MTNL.

----P.Asokababu


Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Top 20 Telecom Services Companies in the World

Name of the Company
Rank
No. Of customers it has
China Mobile (China)
1
68.31 crore
Vodafone(British multinational having headquarters in London and operating in England, European countries and India)
2
38.69 crore
America Movil (Operating in 18 countries in North and South American continents)
3
25.18 crore
Bharti Airtel (Includes both its Indian and African Operations)
4
25.18 crore
Telefonica (Spanish Company operating in 25 countries in Europe, south America and Asia)
5
24.35crore
China Unicom(China)
6
22 crore
Vimpelcom (Headquarters in Amsterdam and has operations in Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Algeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc)
7
20.5 crore
Reliance Comm (India)
8
15.46 crore
Telenor (Norway Company having operations in 11 countries)
9
15.27 crore
China Telecom (China)
10
14.41 crore
MTN(South Africa based multinational operating in many African and Middle Eastern countries)
11
13.65 crore
France Telecom(French multinational having operations in France, Spain, Poland, England etc))
12
13.33 crore
Telekomsel (Indonesia)
13
11.72 crore
Idea Cellular(India)
14
11.71 crore
Sistema (includes MTS Group and operates in Russia, Ukraine, India etc))
15
11.45 crore
Verizon Wireless (USA)
16
11.13 crore
Deutsche Telekom (German multinational company operating in Germany, England, America etc)
17
10.78 crore
AT&T(American multinational company operating in several countries)
18
10.52 crore
Telecom Italia (Italian multinational operating in Italy and in several South American countries)
19
10.11 crore
BSNL(India)
20
9.82 crore


Friday, October 19, 2012

Spectrum Refarming-Another big blow on BSNL


Government is looting BSNL in the name of spectrum allocation. For 3G spectrum it collected Rs 10,000 crore from BSNL for all the circles where it is operating. But it allowed private operators like Airtel, Vodafone, Idea etc to take 3G spectrum for a few circles and then extend 3G services even in circles where they do not have the 3G spectrum by sharing the 3G spectrum of other operators by intra circle roaming, which is illegal. This is still continuing. Thus the private operators paid less and gained more in the 3G spectrum, whereas BSNL has paid the highest amount for the 3G spectrum without much benefit. The Government provided sub-standard BWA spectrum to BSNL and collected Rs 8500 crore for it. BSNL was allotted BWA spectrum in 2.6 MHz band which cannot be utilized for the latest LTE technology for extending 4G services whereas the private operators were allotted BWA spectrum in 2.3 MHz band which can be utilized to provide 4G services on LTE technology.    BSNL surrendered most of this BWA spectrum, but the money paid for it has not yet been paid to BSNL.

Recently the EGoM has recommended collecting one time payment from the existing telecom operators for the 2G spectrum they are holding beyond 4.4 MHz. If the Cabinet approves this recommendation, the BSNL has to pay the highest amount which will be Rs 6250 crore at the minimum level and it may be still higher if the price of the 2G spectrum that would be found in the auction to be held in November 2012 is higher. The telecom operators have to pay this amount prospectively for the remaining period of license. If the remaining period of license is more, the payment has to be more. Since the Private operators Airtel, Vodafone etc were given license in 1994/95/96, their remaining license period in thee total license period of 20 years will be 2/3/4 years and hence they will pay less for the existing spectrum. But the BSNL was allotted license for mobile services in 2000 and hence its license period of 20 years will be over by 2020 only and thus its remaining license period will be 8 years. Because of this discrimination from the Government, the BSNL has to pay very high amount for the spectrum already held by it.

Now another blow on BSNL is on the line due to the decision taken by the Telecom Commission on 17-10-2012, in the name of refarming of spectrum. What is the meaning of this refarming of spectrum?  2G Spectrum was allotted to Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and BSNL (The Companies allotted licenses until 2000) in 2 bands---900 MHz and 1800 MHz. Among these two bands, 900 MHz band is most efficient since the equipment cost is very less whereas the equipment cost is higher for the 1800 MHz band. Moreover, the 4G services also can be provided by using 900 MHz band spectrum. But the present license condition is allowing only 2G services on this 900 MHz band. While the Companies like Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, MTNL and BSNL which were given licenses earlier were allotted initially the 2G spectrum in 900 MHz band, it was over by 2001 and the later entrants could not get the spectrum in this 900 MHz band and they were allotted in 1800 MHz band only. Tata and Reliance were thus denied the 900 MHz band spectrum for their GSM services.

Since the entire 900 MHz band spectrum is with the few companies given license for 2G services earlier, there is a demand from the later entrants like Tata and Reliance for allocation of 900 MHz band spectrum to them also. They say that level playing ground requires allocation of the efficient and cost effective 900 MHz spectrum to all without discrimination. But how to do this since it was already allocated and there is nothing more available for further allocation? TRAI recommended that the 900 MHz band spectrum should be taken away from the existing holders after the expiry of their present license period. The 900 MHz spectrum thus taken has to be auctioned and allotted on that basis. This is called refarming of spectrum. The Telecom Commission in its meeting held on 17-10-2012 decided that as recommended by the TRAI, the 900 MHz spectrum allotted already to the existing operators has to be taken back fully by the Government without retaining any quantity, on completion of their present license period. The 900 MHz band spectrum thus to be taken back by the Government has to be auctioned so that there is fairness in allocation of this efficient band of spectrum. [This decision of the Telecom Commission will come into effect only when it gets the approval of the EGoM (Empowered Group of Ministers) and then by the Cabinet. The decision by the EGoM and the Cabinet on this issue is likely to be finalized in the last week or October or first week of November.]
Since the license period of Airtel, Vodafone etc will be over by 2014/15/16, the 900 MHz band spectrum they are holding now will be taken back by the Government in 2014/15/16. The auction for such 900 MHz band spectrum will be started earlier so that by the time the license period of the incumbants expires, the immediate taker is found ready by the auction. Thus the auction for the 900 MHz band spectrum to be refarmed thus will start in 2013.

The Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, MTNL, and BSNL have established their networks for 900 MHz spectrum operations at lesser cost. If they have to lose this 900 MHz spectrum on expiry of their license period due to this refarming of spectrum, then they have to get back the same in the auction. Otherwise they have to close the networks installed for 900 MHz band and build the network for 1800 MHz band in its place. Both options will be costly. As per one study, if they have to get back the 900 MHz band spectrum in the auction, all of them together have to pay an amount of about Rs 1, 50,000 crores. In case they do not get the 900 MHz spectrum in the auction and have to replace their network for 900 MHz band spectrum with the network for 1800 MHz band spectrum, they have to incur an expenditure of Rs 1, 00,000 crores.

In this regard, BSNL is facing a peculiar problem. Its license period will be over by 2020. Therefore it can retain its existing 900 MHz band spectrum until 2020. Hence the question of participating in the auction to get the 900 MHz band spectrum will arise for BSNL only in the year 2019. But the problem is that the Companies which will get the 900 MHz band spectrum in the auction will be able to provide 4G services using that band, on LTE technology, where as BSNL, although it will be having 900 MHz spectrum until 2020, will be prevented from providing 4G services on it, since the present license condition is preventing it. Therefore BSNL, if it wants to withstand in the competition by providing 4G services along with other operators, has to pay the price discovered in the 900 MHz band spectrum auction to be held in 2013 for getting its license condition changed for enabling it to provide 4G services.

Thus BSNL, although has the eligibility to retain 900 MHz band  spectrum until 2020, has to pay a large sum immediately to get the eligibility for providing 4G serrrvices on 900 MHz band spectrum.
The private operators Airtel, Vodafone and Idea are demanding the Government not to agree for this decision of the Telecom Commission since they have to pay a large amount to get the 900 MHz band spectrum again on expiry of their present license period. They are saying that for the next term of their license period also, they should be allowed to continue with the 900 MHz band spectrum without paying the auction discovered price. On the other hand, Tata and Reliance and some other operators not having the 900 MHz band spectrum are supporting the decision of the Telecom Commission. They are arguing that the 900 MHz band spectrum should not be the monopoly of the Airtel, Vodafone etc and it should be refarmed in accordance with the decision of the Telecom Commission so that they can have a chance of getting the 900 MHz band spectrum in the auction.

Fair play requires that the 900 MHz band spectrum has to be refarmed as per the decision of the Telecom Commission so as to allow all operators to have a chance to get it in the auction. But it will result in heavy expenditure for the existing as well as new operators which will result in increase in the tariff to the customers.

The only solution to solve this problem is to nationalize all the telecom companies and merge them into 3 or 4 competing PSUs in which BSNL and MTNL will be included, so that the spectrum in any band can be allocated free of cost to the PSUs by the Government. Pending this, the BSNL and MTNL, as PSUs should be allowed to have their 900 MHz band spectrum liberalised, that is, they should be allowed to provide 4G services also on 900 MHz band, without any payment to the Government for this purpose. Also, no amount should be collected from them for the spectrum they are holding beyond 4.4 MHz. Free allotment of spectrum in any band along with eligibility to utilise it for providing any service with any technology to BSNL and MTNL is required in view of the fact that they are fulfilling so many social obligations by incurring losses along with fulfilling the requirements of national security in telecom services sector.