Government may abolish roaming charges, plans nationwide number portability - The Times of India NEW DELHI: If the government has its way, it will soon be 'One Nation' as far as telecom is concerned - with roaming charges becoming a thing of the past and nationwide number portability being the order of the day. Besides, broadband speed will go up more than nine times in four years and consumers may get a voice on quality of services in case of disputes with operators. There is also a move to cut costs for value-added services, such as text messages, as the government and the regulator prepare an "appropriate regulatory framework for delivery of VAS at affordable prices". Over the years, call charges have dropped from over Rs 30 a minute to around 60 paise now but mobile users have not benefited from competition when it comes to SMS. While improving the overall quality of service is a key feature of the draft National Telecom Policy 2011, another focus is to shift towards greater convergence between telecom, IT, broadcast and electronics to upgrade the quality of life and make it an instrument of empowerment. "The primary objective of the National Telecom Policy-2011 is maximizing public good by making available affordable, reliable and secure telecommunication and broadband services across the country," communications minister Kapil Sibal said while releasing the document. Also, the mobile will become a device of empowerment and can double up as an identity proof, the draft says. The policy is moving from egovernance to m-governance as mobile telephony is now cheaper resulting in more people having access to phones. POWER TO MOBILITY Free domestic roaming - in other words, STD charges abolished Full number portability. Even if you move to another city, your number needn't change Broadband speed to go up significantly; broadband on demand by 2014 Rural consumers to get universal access by 2020 New technology to be available at lower costs Better consumer protection VOIP (voice over internet protocol) introduced India-made telecom products to get preferential market access Telecom policy for banking via mobiles New Delhi: The draft National Telecom Policy 2011 envisages that basic banking services could be accessed via the mobile phone. "Individual intimation of all kinds of public and private services like school/college admission/ assignments, pension payment, utility bill payments, first level health services, cash withdrawals/deposits will become the norm. A single number could be called for all government services across all three tiers, 24/7," paper said while recognizing electronics as the weak link. The idea is to treat IT and telecom as a basic necessity - just like health or education - and "work towards 'Right to Broadband'". As part of the strategy, internet users can look forward to kissing good bye to painfully slow broadband connections with the policy aiming to double the download speed to 512 kilobytes per second (Kbps) and then boost it to 2 mega bps by 2015. But when it comes to other aspects, the draft reads like a statement of intent with timelines missing. For instance, it talks about a review of roaming charges "with the ultimate objective of removing the roaming charge across the nation". Given that mobile operators are struggling under the weight of falling revenues, there is every chance that they will put up a stiff resistance to the proposal. In fact within hours of Sibal's press conference, the red flags were already out over the 'One Nation' strategy. "The one nation roaming and MNP initiatives appear to be complex issues, which require a handling of state-by-state licence issues, addressing the numbering plan and assessing technical requirements. We are also unclear whether these moves will be revenue neutral or will hurt operator revenue, so it's too early to comment," said Rajan Mathews, director-general of Cellular Operators' Association of India, the GSM industry lobby group. And, on this issue even the rival camp, representing the CDMA operators, seemed to on board. "One nation roaming and MNP (mobile number portability) is excellent for the consumer. However, there is a strong possibility that operators may hike tariffs to compensate for the hit on their revenues by scrapping of roaming charges," added AUSPI secretary general S C Khanna. More opposition may be in store as the policy promises to adopt voice over internet protocol (VOIP) - a sore issue for the consumer that has been pending for years in spite of specific TRAI recommendations in this regard. This move will help lower tariffs and cheer consumers. Phone users may have more reason to cheer as the government has proposed to strengthen the TRAI Act and undertake legislative measures to bring disputes between telecom consumers and service providers within the jurisdiction of Consumer Protection Act. Further, it talks of promoting informed consent, transparency and accountability in quality of service, tariff, usage and strengthen the grievance redressal mechanisms to provide timely and effective resolution. These have been missing pieces despite the government announcing two policies - in 1994 and 1999 - to boost tele density in teh country. Now, the plan is to identify performance standards and benchmark quality of service against the international standards. "To improve transparency, NTP -2011 recognises the need for formulating a separate Code of Practice for Sales and Marketing," the draft policy said. The government also proposed to mandate provision for web-based full disclosure of area coverage by telecom service providers.