The new draft telecom policy released by the Department of Telecom is a lucid, comprehensive attempt that balances the present hard realities with the aspirations of the future. There is a wide base of population that needs to connect while the already connected want to climb up the technology ladder to stand at par with global advances.
The focus of the policy looks at ‘Connect’ and ‘Propel’. That is how our telecom ecosystem exists. One of the six strategic objectives to be achieved through this policy guide by 2022 is to propel India’s rank on the International Telecom Union’s Global ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Development Index in top 50 nations from its lowly 134th rank in 2017.
To make India advance in this global benchmarking framework, the government has to do more than putting impetus through a policy document. There is in fact a ‘flaw’ in the present methodology that will always skew the results in favour of early adaptor nations of ICT. With the present framework, India can never rank high on this global benchmarking measure.
For countries like India, the mobile phone is the first and only computing device for a majority of the population. Today’s smartphone is more powerful than supercomputers of yesteryears. They have 2.7 Ghz clock rates and deca-core processors with 8 GB RAM — something which even the most powerful computers a couple of decades ago did not have.
The point being made is that smartphones are no less capable in computing power and there is no reason to exclude them while gauging the ICT infrastructure and access of any country. There will be complexities like taking into account that many households have a PC as well as a smartphone, and in many families each member has at least one Smartphone.
Globally emerging economies led by India have to take up this matter with ITU and get the framework of ICT Development Index corrected for this aberration that may have arisen over a period of time. Much of this is going to hold true for nations in Africa, which are following us in the developmental cycle. The emergence of an overlapping category like ‘smartified’ featurephone adds another dimension, which could merit to be as good as a rudimentary PC equivalent.
The Department of Telecom along with the regulator TRAI and other industry bodies should jointly take up this matter with ITU and get the Index framework and methodology augmented to have a more realistic view of markets like India. Just this alignment might advance the rank of India to less than 100. With strategies proposed in The National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP 2018), as it is officially called, it could further propel India to a higher level.
This may be just one of the aspects where government intervention is required beyond the purview of policy implementation, but which could have far reaching consequences on the overall health of the sector. Similarly, it might be a good exercise to examine other such areas where a change is warranted at a global level to have the correct reference points giving a fair assessment of things. Smarphones are a good starting point.
(Faisal Kawoosa is Head, New Initiatives at CyberMedia Research. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)