AGR clarity may lead to more investment in telecom sector: Anshu Prakash

"I am happy that the AGR issue is now settled. In this certainty, the court orders are very clear that telcos know very well what is to be paid and the timeframe. And the government is also clear. We are hopeful that this clarity, this finality, t...

NEW DELHI: The telecom sector will attract investments with the tussle over adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues coming to an end, said telecom secretary Anshu Prakash. He added that in line with the national telecom policy of 2018, the department is working on spectrum reform measures.

"I am happy that the AGR issue is now settled. In this certainty, the court orders are very clear that telcos know very well what is to be paid and the time-frame. And the government is also clear,” Prakash said at the ETTelecom Digital Telco Virtual Summit 2020. “We are hopeful that (with) this clarity, this finality, closure of the issue will now lead to more investments in the telecom sector."

Telecom market leader Reliance Jio concurred with Prakash that India will attract investment opportunities. The telco will work with local stakeholders to drive innovation.

The secretary’s comments come on the back of a recent Supreme Court verdict that allowed Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel, and Tata Teleservices to pay their balance AGR dues over the next 10 years .

It appears to have brought closure to a 16-year battle where telcos like VIL had said if sufficient time was not given, then bankruptcy was a possibility. The telcos are now on a fundraising spree with the likes of VIL aiming to raise Rs 25,000 crore. This would come on the back of Jio Platforms, parent of Reliance Jio, raising over Rs1.5 lakh crore from top global tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Intel besides tech-focused PE players and sovereign wealth funds.

Over the next decade, Prakash said that more progress in the telecom sector is anticipated.

"We're also working on how to improve telecom infrastructure. This, I believe, will be another great opportunity for all of us actually involved in this sector," he added.

In line with the government's views, Jio said it will drive India's investment momentum further so that the country becomes a new destination for innovation.

"It is evident that India has become the new destination for global investors. And be assured we will drive this momentum further so that India is indeed the new destination for innovation, for the growth of new technology and digital platforms," Jio president Mathew Oommen said at the event.

He added that Jio plans to work with all relevant members within India so that the country would become self-reliant in key technologies. Oommen’s comments come at a time when parent firm Reliance Industries’ chairman, Mukesh Ambani, had earlier said that Jio has built a homegrown 5G ecosystem and is poised to become a global 5G vendor.

“We have partnered with and we are continuing to create an ecosystem with some of the leading platform and component providers of the world. The recent investments in India are key testaments of that," Oommen said.

The debt laden telecom sector, which went through a massive consolidation phase since 2017, is now a three-player market.

“South Asia is disproportionately low in attracting investment. Regulatory frameworks must be modernized to foster and facilitate investment, innovation, and growth for strong foundations for digital transformation," said telecom group GSM Association’s (GSMA) Asia Pacific head, Julian Gorman.

At the event, Jio’s president reiterated the need for a 2G-free India at a time when sector regular has re-emphasised that 2G remains relevant and there are 350 million subscribers.

While Jio is available only on 4G network , rivals VIL and Airtel and government owned BSNL have 2G subscribers .

The conclave also had sector heads discuss the need for more digital access and internet penetration, which includes 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots.

"In comparison with the rest of the world, India has a negligible presence of only 0.1 million public Wi-Fi hotspots. The global average is one hotspot per 150 people. To achieve the global average, we need to put 10 million Wi-Fi hotspots in the country," said Ram Sewak Sharma, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Minister of State for Telecom, IT, and HRD, Sanjay Dhotre, said the national broadband mission would ensure Internet services to reach all villages by 2022, and the national policy would further strengthen India's telecom sector.





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