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National Digital Communications Policy 2018: The future looks bright

With more than a billion mobile phone connections and over 500 million internet users, the nation is ready to usher into the evolving era of converged digital communications. India’s digital sector has been projected to reach $1 trillion and create 75 million jobs by 2025! Clearly, the path to Digital India has now been laid. With the emergence of new technologies and advancements such as Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, Blockchain and machine learning, all the sectors of our economy have experienced a series of tech disruptions.

The ongoing digital revolution is a welcome development to the distress of the telecom sector which has been experiencing a wave of financial challenges and debts rising to unmanageable levels. Since tele companies are the the infrastructure providers for the digital economy, the potential of the current digital wave should be leveraged to establish and enhance the reach, scope, span, speed and safety of digital communications in the country.

The National Digital Communications Policy 2018 (NDCP) is the new impetus for the telecommunication sector. The policy aims at creating and sustaining a sound digital infrastructure in the country. The three-pronged approach of “CONNECT-PROPEL-SECURE” will lead to an inclusive, empowering and transformative impact and it aims to create 4 million jobs and bring in investments to the tune of $100 billion. The implementation of this policy will fundamentally redefine the contours of how India connects and communicates digitally. Speaking of pushing India ahead, foreign investment has been highlighted as a major aspect of the policy. The NDCP aims to catalyse investment for the digital sector through various avenues like ensuring a holistic and harmonised approach for harnessing emerging tech, as well as providing an impetus to research and development, start-ups and local manufacturing.

Communications services bring with them significant economic progress of citizens. The telecom sector currently contributes 6 percent to the GDP. The NDCP2018 has set a target of 8 percent. Under its ‘Broadband for all’ initiative, it aims to make sure that every citizen has access to broadband running at least 50Mbps, while all key development institutes should be receiving at least 100Mpbs of speed by 2022. The policy has projected that, by 2022, 10 gigabytes per second (Gbps) connectivity shall be provided at the gram panchayat level. The NDCP also seeks to ensure connectivity in all areas that are currently uncovered through channelizing the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), thereby maximising citizen-centric connectivity as well as last-mile inclusivity. To build a connected and shared digital network, absolute inclusivity is a necessary first step.

One of the missions of the NDCP policy is "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". In order to realise the potential of complete digitisation, it is important that next-generation technologies are leveraged in order to improve efficiencies, provide sustainable solutions, better revenue streams and optimise costs. It is these technological game-changers that place the ICT industry at the forefront of nationwide digitisation.

The policy also recognizes spectrum as a natural resource and therefore, will ensure its adequate availability, efficient usage and putting together a fair and transparent allocation method for service providers. Having taken cognizance of the high cost of spectrum, the policy has also suggested for adopting optimal pricing to ensure sustainable and affordable access to digital communication. The final policy will give a final shape to guide the evolution of telecom industry in the country.

One notable aspect of the policy is the focus on the creation of a comprehensive data protection system for digital communications that ensures safety, privacy, autonomy and choice for citizens, while encouraging their participation in the global digital economy. A key aspect of this policy would to be safeguard India against the evolving threats of cyber-attacks that arise with the transition towards a digital economy. Furthermore, with the public launch of open datasets, it is vital that security of information, data and digital communications of organisations and individuals be of paramount importance.

Many have pointed out that for NDCP 2018 to succeed, a detailed implementation plan with clear timelines for implementation and identification of persons responsible for timely implementation, are essential ingredients of success. We are pleased to note that the DoT has taken this aspect seriously and Ms. Aruna Sundarajan, DoT secretary and Telecom Commission Chair, has confirmed that the DoT is working on this.

The changes suggested and the frameworks proposed are indeed laudable and if implemented efficiently would enhance India’s digital capability. The year 2022 will be a watershed year if all the NDCP 2018’s targets are achieved. The proposed Digital Policy is a brilliant initiative on the part of the government to formally focus on not only the telecom sector but also include digitization of the country within its ambit. The NDCP 2018 has therefore laid out a comprehensive, focused and coherent road-map with clear strategies, aimed towards catapulting India on the path of global knowledge revolution.