India Wants Fair Competition For 5G Rollout, Says Ravi Shankar Prasad
Students look at a Micromax Informatics Ltd. smartphone in Mumbai, India. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

India Wants Fair Competition For 5G Rollout, Says Ravi Shankar Prasad

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The government on Saturday told the telecom industry that it wants fair competition in the sector and will not encourage monopoly, while asked companies to prioritise quality of service and ensure "robust involvement" in 5G as also $5-trillion economy blueprint.

Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who met the industry honchos also assured them of government's full support on outstanding issues such as cut in levies and refunds.

"I highlighted to them, the need for a robust involvement of the industry in 5G innovation, startups and creation of 5G products that can create India specific patents. I said that in the five trillion economy target, 25 percent should be telecom's contribution," the minister said after meeting industry CEOs.

Prasad's first interaction with the industry after he took charge of the telecom portfolio comes at a time when the sector is reeling under severe financial stress with cumulative debt of over Rs 7 lakh crore. Saturday's meeting was attended by Bharti Airtel Ltd. CEO Gopal Vittal, Vodafone Idea Ltd.'s Balesh Sharma, Reliance Jio board member Mahendra Nahata and BSNL Chairman PK Purwar.

Prasad said he has already taken up outstanding issues such as inputs tax credit and lowering of GST rate with the finance ministry and said that a proposal pertaining to reduction of universal service obligation levy is also under the telecom department's consideration.

"I have asked companies to look at improving the quality of service. Also 43,000 villages are uncovered at present. I have told the industry to pool in their resources so that in one year, we can reach all the uncovered villages and they have agreed. The Department of Telecom will provide all assistance," Prasad said.

The minister also asked the companies to look at improving connectivity and digital ecosystem in religious sites like Kedarnath and Badrinath. The minister assured the industry of its support on the issue of installation of telecom towers. The industry flagged the issue of lapsed bank guarantees which they want returned and the ministry has asked the DoT to urgently look into the matter.

"I have assured them three things...We want a fair competition. The government will not encourage any monopoly and will do its best for ease of doing business," Prasad said.

The telecom sector is burdened with staggering debt levels and cut throat competition. Competition has only intensified since 2016, when Reliance Jio, owned by richest Indian Mukesh Ambani, stormed into the market and offered lifetime free calls and dirt cheap data. Jio's offerings forced rivals to slash rates, affecting profit margins.

Since the launch, rivals have either teamed up via merger, resorted to acquisitions or folded up.

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