Source: Economic Times

The government intends to ensure adequate availability of spectrum in the upcoming auction and beyond, as it is aware of the challenges that lack of the natural resource poses for the growth of the industry.

“What was pending with defence for the last 7-8 years has been cleared,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for telecom and information technology, said at the ET Global Business Summit on Saturday.

“We’ve been able to settle that and whatever is required to be done to ensure adequate availability of spectrum, we will do our best in a transparent manner,” Prasad added.

The comments come amid criticism from the industry and experts that the government is putting a limited amount of spectrum in the upcoming February auctions which will create artificial scarcity and push up prices for airwaves, in turn increasing the sector’s debt to over Rs 300,000 crore.

The government intends to mop up Rs 80,000 crore from the February auction where airwaves in 2G and 3G bands will be put up for sale, including those due for renewal in towards the end of 2015 that are critical for survival for telecom companies including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Communications.

Prasad said that he was aware of the importance of spectrum for growth of the mobile industry and government projects, most importantly Digital India which is banking on the National Optic Fibre Network program, that require airwaves for last mile connectivity.

“I know spectrum is important for Digital India,” Prasad said and added that the government had already laid down 20,000 kms of optic fibre, which will have a government user network running on it for delivery of various government services.

Reiterating the importance of the government’s Rs 1.13 lakh crore Digital India program which aims to offer government services to all Indians online and through smartphones by 2019, the minister of telecom said that the government will connect 250,000 gram panchayats within three years through the National Fibre Optic Network.

The first 50,000 of these will be connected within this year under the Rs 20,000 crore-project. Under this project, the country’s first district Idukki in Kerala was connected with fibre last month.