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Sibal bats for spectrum audit, change in merger rules
April, 12th 2011

Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal Monday unveiled the broad framework of a new telecom policy which would usher in reforms such as audit of spectrum usage, de-linking of spectrum allocation and licences, and change of merger and acquisition guidelines, among others.

"We want regular audit and review of usage of spectrum by various agencies. We feel this is required. Which agency, whether it is going to be the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) or the TRAI ( Telecom Regulatory Authority of India )), we have not decided yet," Sibal told reporters here.

"All future licences should be unified licences and spectrum should be de-linked from licences," he added while presenting the 100-day report on the progress of various measures announced at the beginning of the year.

The minister said that a uniform licence fee across all service areas was needed, and added that the quantum of fee would be decided in due course.

Existing roll-out obligations too will be modified as the department of telecom was finding it difficult to monitor the same, he pointed out.

The terms for renewing licences will also be changed in the new policy.

Companies seeking to renew their licences will have to apply 30 months before the current one expires "so that there is enough time for us to deal with the applications, enough time for the licencee also to know what he is in for", Sibal said.

The licences will be renewed after 10 years, not 20 years.

Sibal, who took over from the scam-tainted A. Raja last November after the latter was forced to quit over irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum, had announced Jan 1 the overhaul of the existing telecom policies and promised a progress report on it in 100 days.

The minister Monday also announced the constitution of a committee, under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court judge Shivraj Patil, to draft a "spectrum act".

Patil had, earlier this year, submitted a report to the government on procedural lapses in the allocation of 2G spectrum 2001-09.

The minister said the guidelines for mergers and acquisitions needed to be changed to meet the needs of a dynamic sector like telecom.

"Mergers and acquisition guidelines need to be liberalised. The number of competitors (post merger or acquisition) should not be allowed to fall below six," said Sibal.

Talking of information technology, the minister said a committe would be set up to finalise a national broadband plan and another to devise ways of attracting investment towards setting up of a semiconductor wafer fabrication unit.

The broadband committee will be headed by chairman of the Knowledge Commission and advisor to the prime minister Sam Pitroda and co-chaired by Nandan Nilekani , chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

Some of the key changes in the new telecom policy are:

Four categories of licences to be put in place - unified licences, class licences, licensing through authorisation and broadcasting licences.

Two levels of unified licences, at the national level and at the service area level.

Spectrum sharing to be controlled and permitted only under certain conditions.

Drafting committee to finalise a national spectrum act, which will deal with issues like allocation, and will be headed by Justice (retd) Shivraj Patil.

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