Spectrum reform, the need of the hour
Mains Paper 3: Economy
Prelims level: Spectrum audit
Mains level: Telecommunication sector growth and issues
- Developments in technologies such as LTE/4G/5G provide greater
speed of access, more bandwidth than earlier generations and hence make
possible innovative uses and applications with consequent economic growth.]
For these services to be available to citizens of the
country, it is important that at the national level, relevant spectrum bands
are identified, and streamlined processes are put in place for allocating
them to different service providers/users in a timely manner.
Proper regulation and management of spectrum at the
national level is more critical in India, as mobile is by far the
predominant method (>95 per cent) of Internet access.
- Since spectrum is a natural, perishable resource, unutilised or
inefficiently used spectrum is a wasted economic opportunity.
- In India, although a transition from a command and control
framework to a more open process for spectrum regulation has happened, the
path has been slow and bumpy.
- Spectrum availability for commercial services continues to be
constrained in relation to other countries.
- One of the reasons for this state is that spectrum that was
allocated to various public agencies was done administratively, and there
was no proper framework to “refarm” the existing users to different bands or
ensure that it was optimally utilised.
- “Refarming” often requires investments in new network equipment
and end user devices.
- Many agencies did not have the financial resources or a policy
directive to enable them to switch to a different band or the more efficient
- Spectrum audits, especially of government and public users, could
identify unutilised spectrum.
- Such agencies may not have an orientation to effective usage as
they may have been allocated spectrum in the past at nominal charges or
- The audit could also lead to the digitisation of existing
services, freeing some spectrum.
- To recognise the market potential/price, the released spectrum
could be auctioned to service providers.
- This mechanism called incentive auction creates a win-win
situation for both the seller and the service provider who can exploit the
released spectrum for commercial opportunities. The auction proceeds may
then be used by the seller to go digital.
- Without such spectrum audits and incentive auctions, it may be
difficult for public agencies to make available the spectrum that they are
not using or “refarm” to another band.
- Incentive auctions have been used effectively in the US and UK,
especially for the release of spectrum from erstwhile broadcast services to
- While DD has largely ceased analog terrestrial transmission, its
DTT platform is yet to take off, leaving the spectrum unutilised.
- DD also has a free DTH scheme (DD Free Dish – DDFD), where the
dish and STB are subsidised and programming is free. DDFD has seen
- This further creates impediments for DTT adoption.
- Moreover, as per DD’s plans, DTT has an urban focus. However, the
raison-d’etre for DD was to provide access in rural areas which are
- Review of the role of DTT in the current Indian scenario, where
urban users, anyway have competing platforms of C&S, wired Internet and
mobile to choose from, could release more than 80 MHz of bandwidth for
mobile services. But the I&B Ministry has been reluctant to review this and
has plans to further expand its non-existent DTT services.
- As exemplified above, in order to have more spectrum commercially
available and accelerate Internet use, India needs a review of its spectrum
management and regulatory policies.
- The Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing (WPC) under the DoT
does not have the required visibility to do so on its own.
Set up inter-ministerial group
- As a first step, an inter-ministerial group with representation
from concerned agencies, both public and private needs to be put in place.
- An action orientation and a well-laid out road map are necessary.
- Recommendations from previous such groups and task force have
remained only on paper. Industry associations and citizens need to lobby for
such reforms as these are also beneficial to them.
- In India, spectrum audit studies have hardly been done.
- Even when it is known that there is unused spectrum with agencies,
it is difficult to get them to “vacate” the spectrum for other uses. A case
in point is that of broadcast spectrum.
- The I and B Ministry has been very slow in digitisation.
Doordarshan (DD) has a monopoly in terrestrial services.
- Since 2003, when I and B came up with a plan for Digital
Terrestrial Television (DTT) until now, the service has not been
commercially deployed, despite the significant investments in equipment.
- The very limited number of channels that have been provisioned
(compared to more than 600 on C and S networks), the need for a DTT specific
set-top boxes, and the already high rate (98 per cent) of penetration of
cable and satellite (C and S) services in TV owning households are
Q.1) With reference to the ‘Special status of Jammu & Kashmir under
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution’, which of the following statements
(1) Jammu & Kashmir has a separate Constitution and a Flag.
(2) The Union Government can impose Financial Emergency in the State.
(3) No emergency due to internal disturbance can be declared in the State
without the concurrence of the Governor of the State.
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) 1 and 2 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3
Q.1) What do you mean by Spectrum audit? How Spectrum audits of the
government and public users would identify unutilised spectrum, to be auctioned
to service providers?
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