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Special Content

Issue no 7, 14 May - 20 May 2022

World Telecommunication Day

Fast Tracking Digital Empowerment and Inclusion

Telecommunication has been recognized the world-over as a powerful tool of development and poverty reduction through empowerment of masses. It is one of the key elements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development for 2030, reflecting its growing reach, better networks and adoption of tools and solutions that enhance digitisation of systems, processes and interactions across key sectors like agriculture, banking, healthcare, etc. in developing and middle income countries. To bring the world's attention to this powerful tool, World Telecommunication Day has been celebrated annually since 1969 on May 17, marking the founding of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865.

In 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society called upon the UN General Assembly to declare May 17 as World Information Society Day to focus on the importance of information and communication technologies (ICT) and the wide range of issues related to the Information Society raised by WSIS. The General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2006 stipulating that World Information Society Day shall be celebrated every year on May 17. In November 2006, the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, decided to celebrate both events on May 17 as World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Theme for 2022

This year's theme raises awareness of the important role of telecommunications/ICTs in supporting people to stay healthy, connected and independent - physically, emotionally and financially. Telecommunications and Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) have a role to play in achieving healthier ageing, and also in helping people build smarter cities, combat age-based discrimination at the workplace, ensure financial inclusion of older persons, and support millions of caregivers across the world. Supporting a life of healthy ageing is also critical for the sustainability of economic and health systems. The ITU hopes to foster initiatives to accelerate digital technologies for older persons and healthy ageing that will contribute towards the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing.

 Importance of Telecommunication

 With a subscriber base of around 2 billion, India is currently the world's second-largest country in terms of telephone connections. India's mobile subscriptions now constitute more than 98% of all telephone subscriptions. The Internet is now akin to global information infrastructure. The Government has placed considerable emphasis on internet and broadband in the country as a part of its 'Digital India' campaign.

 The main medium for internet access is mobile telephony. With extensive reach and affordability, mobile telephony has helped in bringing unconnected sections of population with the network and in the mainstream, thereby reducing the digital divide, which has assumed added significance during the pandemic.

 Telecommunications reduce transaction costs by decreasing the cost of acquiring information, create opportunities for additional transactions, and therefore contribute to economic efficiency and growth. Reducing transaction costs is a major contribution of telecommunication to the economic growth of a nation. Information, and the facilities for accessing, processing, and disseminating it in electronic form, have become a strategic resource as important as land, labour and capital.

Higher economic growth places more demand on the existing and newer telecommunications services thereby inducing the development of the sector while the economic growth itself makes the necessary investment resources available. In this context, the Government of India has played an important role and supported the telecom sector by appropriate and benign policies. Through policy initiatives, the Government has ensured fair competition among service providers, and a fair and proactive regulatory framework has made telecom services affordable and within reach of the common person of the country.

Telecommunications Set Up in India

In India, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is, inter-alia, responsible for Telecom Policy; Licensing and Coordination matters relating to telegraph, telephones, telecom wireless data; international cooperation in matters connected with telecommunications, promotion of standardization, Research & Development (R&D) in Telecommunications; and promotion of private investment in the sector. DoT is also responsible for frequency management in the field of radio communication in close coordination with the international bodies. DoT enforces wireless regulatory measures by monitoring wireless transmission of all users in the country.

 A Telecom Commission was set up by the Government of India in 1989 with administrative and financial powers of the Government of India to deal with various aspects of telecommunications. The Commission was redesignated as the 'Digital Communications Commission' in 2018. The Digital Communications Commission is responsible for: a) formulating the policy of Department of Telecommunications for approval of the Government; b) preparing the budget for the Department of Telecommunications for each financial year and getting it approved by the Government; and c) Implementation of Government's policy in all matters concerning telecommunication.

During the difficult pandemic period, initiatives of the Department ensured seamless connectivity, uninterrupted services, work from home, and online classes to name a few.

India has been taking concrete steps towards development of telecom standards. The 5Gi standards developed within India have now been recognised by ITU as one of the three technologies for 5G. With more than 1.2 billion telecom subscribers, a robust ecosystem of start-ups and innovation hubs, India is poised to contribute meaningfully in developing telecom standards further. A 6G Technology Innovation Group (TIG) has also been constituted by DoT with the objective to cocreate and participate in the development of 6G technology ecosystem through increased participation in capability description, standards development at international standard setting bodies.

India recently signed Host Country Agreement with the International Telecommunication Union for establishment of Area Office & Innovation Centre at New Delhi. International Telecommunication Union is the United Nations specialised agency for Information and Communication Technologies - ICTs. The Area Office and Innovation Centre of ITU at New Delhi is expected to serve South Asian countries namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. The Area Office shall also have an Innovation Centre, which is expected to give impetus to research and development in telecommunication technologies in South Asia.

National Digital Communications Policy

The National Digital Communications Policy, 2018 (NDCP) was launched by the Government with a vision to fulfill the information and communication needs of citizens and enterprises through establishment of a ubiquitous, resilient, secure, accessible and affordable Digital Communications Infrastructure and Services. The policy aims to support India's transition to a digitally empowered economy and society. The policy further seeks to unlock the transformative power of digital communications networks for achieving the goal of digital empowerment and improved well-being of the people.

The policy has three missions:

a) Connect India: To promote 'Broadband for All' as a tool for socio-economic development, while ensuring service quality and environmental sustainability. In order to operationalize 'Broadband for All', National Broadband Mission was launched in 2019 with a vision to enable fast track growth of digital communications infrastructure, to bridge the digital divide for digital empowerment and inclusion, and to provide affordable and universal access to broadband.

b) Propel India: To harness the power of emerging digital technologies, including 5G, AI, IoT, Cloud and Big Data to enable provision of future ready products and services, and to catalyze the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) by promoting investments, innovation and IPR.

c) Secure India: To secure the interests of citizens and safeguard the digital sovereignty of India with a focus on ensuring individual autonomy and choice, data ownership, privacy and security; while recognizing data as a crucial economic resource.

National Broadband Mission

Enabling Broadband connectivity across the country is essential to bridge the Digital divide between rural-urban and rich-poor and to promote egovernance, transparency, financial inclusion, ease of doing business and the socioeconomic development of citizens. With the objective to provide 'Broadband for All', 'National Broadband Mission' was launched by the Government on December 17, 2019 to enable fast track growth of digital communications infrastructure, to bridge the digital divide for digital empowerment and inclusion, and to provide affordable and universal access to broadband.

The National Broadband Mission aims to:

a) address policy and regulatory changes required to accelerate the expansion and creation of digital infrastructure and services;

b) create a digital fiber map of the Digital Communications network and infrastructure, including Optical Fiber Cables (OFC) and Towers, across the country;

c) work with the Department of Space, to make available adequate resources required for extending connectivity to far flung areas of country through satellite media;

d) encourage and promote adoption of innovative technologies for proliferation of broadband especially by the domestic industry;

e) develop a Broadband Readiness Index (BRI) to measure the availability of digital communications infrastructure and conducive policy ecosystem within a State/UT;

f) promote direct and indirect employment as a result of development of Digital Communications infrastructure across the country and through the digital economy.

Prime Minister's Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI)

To accelerate proliferation of Broadband services through public Wi-Fi networks in the country, the Government in 2020 approved setting up of Public Wi-Fi Networks by Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs) and Public Data Offices (PDOs). This framework takes forward the goal of NDCP-2018 of creating a robust digital communications infrastructure across India. Proliferation of Broadband Services through public Wi-Fi networks is a step towards Digital India and consequential benefits thereon. This will encourage technology entrepreneurs to develop and deploy Wi-Fi technology solutions triggering Make in India. This new eco system will also enable new business models for shopkeepers as potential PDOs to provide high speed broadband services. No License Fee for providing broadband services using public Wi-Fi Hotspots will encourage its proliferation and penetration across the length and breadth of the country.

Compiled by Annesha Banerjee and Anuja Bhardwajan

Source: DoT/UN