Telecommunications, in particular the emergence of the Internet, has made our world a global village. With a philosophy of viewing the world as one big family, and a population that represents one sixth of the world's, India is well poised to help achieve a vision of linking citizens of the world together. However, the pragmatics of achieving this vision is far from straightforward. With proper planning and participation of all like-minded people from India and abroad, Indian telecommunications aims to reach the level desired for meeting the needs and aspiration of a global democracy.
The need to communicate with others is deeply rooted in human nature. Communication can remove misunderstandings and misconceptions. While science and technology may have become the means of destruction when used wrongly, they can also truly be the enablers of peace and prosperity for humanity. Telecommunications, as an arm of science and technology, have made our world a global village. The Internet, a product of computers and communications, has further facilitated seamlessly linking of every individual to another individual anywhere to anywhere on the networks, thus enhancing the development and spread of universal values and understanding. With a philosophy of viewing the world as one big family, and a population that represents one sixth of the world's, India is well poised to help achieve a vision of linking citizens of the world together. However, the pragmaticsof achieving this vision is far from straightforward. The country's leaders have the challenge of addressing the limitation of resources and infrastructure required. Telecommunications Organisation Up until recently, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), a Government body, was the sole controller of all telecommunications related services. Some time back the Government also created separate Operating units like the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) and the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL) for operation of local, national and international services. In keeping with the requirements of the time, the Government also allowed the entry of private operators in new areas like mobile, Value Added Services (VAS) and basic services. The Government also set up the independent Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to facilitate the liberalisation and operation by private operators in a liberalised environment, which has taken its first steps by taking control of the rules for entry, the operation of operators and the tariffs for the various services. Areas for Concern Two major areas requiring immediate attention of all concerned, including the TRAI, are the tariffs and rules for entry of public and private operators in telecommunications operation. Tariffs Due to a shortage of adequate infrastructure to provide telephones on demand, tariffs in India were designed to restrict excessive usage of basic services. Even the TRAI has continued with this philosophy, which is not in the spirit of liberalisation of telecommunications. This situation has come about mainly because of the shortage of the number of Direct Exchange Lines (DELs). Innovative steps need to be taken to address the shortage of lines and associated requirements. For example, rules for usage in low traffic hours need to be made simple and useable, business users may initially be charged a higher cost but allowed more usage without an increase in tariffs for higher usage. The number of free calls may be increased as it affects individual non-business users and academic R&D institutions. Old and disabled persons may be given relief in subscription and tariffs. The TRAI has been given inputs on such concerns and is expected to improve the current system soon. Rules for Entry of Operators Privatisation is not a new concept in India. From ancient times India has allowed private businesses to flourish in addition to state controlled enterprises. Even in modern India the growth of large business houses like TATA, BIRLA and many others in various areas of business and industry is a testimony to the Indian approach to privatisation. However, the process of liberalising telecommunications in India has been slow. To bring speedier change, the Government needs to act as a regulator to create a level playing field and ensure quality service by all operators. All areas of operation including infrastructure need to be made free and accessible to private operators. Public and private operators should be treated as equals and allowed to operate on similar terms and conditions, even in the use of Government infrastructure and resources. Aspects like national security and the loss of state revenue need to be stressed in a realistic way by devising innovative and progressive approaches rather than using brute force, blocking everything in the name of security or state. Some Proposed Solutions India has an installed base of more than 22,200 exchanges and a 17.7 million switching capacity. Still, the country has a waiting list, which will further grow with requests for Internet connections and demand to improve performance. If every able-bodied individual is to be provided a telephone then a population of 1000 million will require around 900 million telephone lines. If the objective is to provide a telephone to every home, a country of 1000 million will need around 200 million telephone lines. In 1997 India had 14.5 million lines and plans to install another 15 million lines by year 2000. Even after the introduction of mobile and satellite telephones the available network and its capacity will be far below the desired level. This huge demand cannot be met by a conventional approach to telecommunications services. Each or all of the approaches described in the table can help to enhance availability and optimisation of resources and also provide occupation to millions of people in the country. Human Resource The world has now entered the new era of the Information Society and the emergence of knowledge workers. This necessitates education and training of staff in required areas. India has more than 6000 institutions such as universities and colleges producing more than 325,000 educated personnel every year. Still, there is a need to train and develop more human resources in the areas of Information Technology (IT), computers and communication. Realising this requirement, India has taken steps to open the education and training to the private sector and has even invited national and international organisations to participate in joint and independent ventures. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has more than 500,000 personnel at different levels. With an increase in the use of computers most of these employees need to be trained in the maintenance and operation of computer based systems. This will require an increase in the number of IT based training institutions and trainers, and it is a process that cannot be done overnight. As a result, efforts must be made to use innovative approaches such as: Ÿ Inviting private institutions to develop suitable migration programmes and train existing personnel in new (particularly IT based) requirements. Ÿ Use retired professors and other professionals to develop migration programmes and course material. They could also be used to train the trainers. Ÿ Use computer and Internet based training programmes for remote/distance training. Ÿ Use IT in setting up Cyber training centres and distance education programmes. Today the Government of India and all state Governments have already launched major initiatives to make use of IT in all areas of activity, including training. All national and international organisations and multi-nationals are invited to participate in India's initiatives in this direction, which represents an opportunity of more than US$1.5 billion (Rs 6,000 Crore) in human resources development now and in the future. Investment Opportunity India is at the crossroads of a great historical movement. While the world is preparing to enter the next millennium, it is planning to catch up with the developed nations and become a partner in making the world a prosperous and peaceful place for all. India has already invited all major telecommunications manufacturers and operators to participate in the 'Indian initiative', representing a US$7 billion (Rs 28000 Crore) opportunity in various areas like manufacturing, infrastructure, software, manpower and and telecommunications, with the telecommunications industry earning a US$1 billion (Rs 4000 Crore) share. Conclusion Indian leaders and planners have already taken steps to facilitate a speedy growth of telecommunication and other services, which can be seen from the various task forces at national and state levels. However, the country also needs the support of other progressive nations. With proper planning and participation of all like-minded people from India and abroad, Indian telecommunications will soon reach the level desired for meeting the needs and aspiration of a global democracy.