Mukesh Ambani Endorses Subsidy On Mobile Handsets For Digital Inclusion
Mukesh Ambani, Asia's richest man who upended India's telecom market with low-cost tariffs, said the nation should offer subsidy on mobile devices to drive greater digital inclusion.
“When we talk of affordability in the policy context, we only think of affordability of services,” Ambani said in his keynote address at the India Mobile Congress 2021. “Actually, India needs to ensure affordability not only of services, but also of devices and applications.”
Ambani suggested using the Universal Service Obligation Fund of the Department of Telecommunications. The mandate of the fund, which receives inflows from the universal access levy charged to telecom operators, is to provide access to communication services at affordable prices to people in rural and underserved areas.
“The best way of ensuring comprehensive affordability is nimble adoption of futuristic technologies and supportive policy tools like use of the USO fund for purposes other than services,” Ambani said. “The USO fund can be used to subsidise devices to select target groups.”
The success of Ambani's Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. was built on affordable tariffs and devices. The carrier began by offering free services and then by pricing tariffs cheaper than peers. A pricing war ensued, driving data consumption in India. The company launched the low-cost JioPhone feature phone, and then the JioPhone Next, a budget smartphone built in collaboration with Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
Ambani also called for faster migration from 2G to 4G to 5G. "To keep millions of Indians at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, confined to 2G, is to deprive them of the benefits of the digital revolution."
The rollout of 5G should be India’s national priority, he said, and the country should focus on ubiquitous fiber connectivity and "radical transformation" of its energy systems.