Twenty-five years ago, I was speaking at a conference in Mumbai where Prof. Pankaj Ghemawat from Harvard mentioned, “We spent many years in the sixties and seventies waiting for a telephone and then years with our land phones waiting for a dial tone. One can only hope that India will find some way to leapfrog.” Ten years later, I was listening to a keynote by Sam Pitroda in Ahmedabad where he spoke about his stellar achievement getting the Department of Telecom (DoT) to work and started the revolution of STD-ISD-PCO centres everywhere in the country. And in an almost unobtrusive manner, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-government in 1999 implemented a key policy reform in 1999, separating policy formulation and service provision and giving birth to the BSNL.
From a country which looked at a telephone as a luxury in my childhood, we are today the proud users of over 800 million mobile phones, a substantial chunk of the five billion-plus phones in use all over the world. Thanks to the burgeoning young and tech-savvy population in the country, the rapid rise of e-commerce and mobile-commerce in the country in the last decade and intense competition driving down prices of smartphone handsets, India has far exceeded every target for telecom penetration and teledensity. This is something to be proud of. And while a lot of people may be given the credit, from Rajiv Gandhi to Sam Pitroda to Vajpayee, we should all take credit and be as proud of the Telecom Policy of the nineties as we are of the Software Technology Parks of India scheme of the eighties. One created a global winner in software services while the other enabled us to leapfrog in mobility to world-class levels.
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