The entry of middlemen has been banned: Ravi Shankar Prasad


Even as telecom operators heaved a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court’s decision to scrap call drop penalties, Union Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Centre will continue to push operators to improve their service quality. The minister also stressed that the price for the 700 Mhz spectrum band was arrived at following prescribed norms. Excerpts: After nearly two years in office, what have been the high points of your tenure? When I became the minister of this department, I had fixed certain priorities, the first of which was to fix the image of Sanchar Bhawan which was in the news for all the wrong reasons. It was the place where the 2G scam had happened. We have been able to change that, now decisions are taken in the most transparent manner and the entry of middlemen is banned. Last year, we had the highest spectrum auction ever of Rs.1.10 lakh crore. We also introduced spectrum trading and sharing guidelines to make more spectrum available to operators. In the past two years, we have seen FDI inflows of over Rs.27,000 crore in the sector. The success that India Post is seeing is something that I am personally very satisfied and happy about. The Postal Department has seen seven per cent growth in speed-post revenues to Rs.1,600 crore. There were only four India Post ATMs in June 2014, now we have over 900 ATMs. The focus on e-commerce too has paid off. The growth there is phenomenal. Parcel revenue growth had dipped 2 per cent in 2013-14 at Rs.118.06 crore. It rose 45 per cent to Rs.172 crore in 2014-15 and 80 per cent in 2015-16 to Rs.310 crore. We also intend to start our payment bank by March 2017. Then there is the turnaround of BSNL, whose profits stood at over Rs.10,000 crore in 2004. In 2014, when we came to power, it had registered a loss of Rs.8,234 crore. Last year, BSNL registered an operating profit of Rs.672 crore and is now adding 23 lakh new users every month as opposed to 7.21 lakh per month in June 2014. What about MTNL? MTNL last year earned a profit of Rs.25 crore. But yes, it requires more attention. It is a focus area for us and we are working on it too. Operators say that the pricing of 700 MHz band of spectrum at Rs. 11,500 crore per MHz is too high... The entire pricing process has been done by prescribed norms. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India sent recommendations to the Department. These were sent back with certain queries and then accepted after receiving clarifications. I always say operators have such a big market in India so pricing should not be a problem. How do you plan to pursue the issue of service quality? I have been given to understand that since July last year, the operators have installed over 90,000 sites, of which 5,000 are in Delhi. At a departmental level, we insisted nce that they continue to improve quality of services. India is home to 100 crore plus mobile phones, 100 crore Aadhaar card holders, 40 crore Internet users, 60 per cent of those users are mobile-based.

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