The Union Government’s generous shower of goodies for the national telecom sector has been greeted with big applause by the industry. The four-year moratorium on all spectrum and AGR ( adjusted gross revenue) dues is indeed a timely lifeline to the beleaguered industry in the pandemic era that has virtually knocked the hell out of the entire gamut of the business sector. But the good news is accompanied by a rude reminder for another part of the telecom sector. To put it bluntly, the once-great MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.) is dying a slow death. Nay, it is being strangulated ever so slowly and strategically by the powers that be. Or is it a case of what ‘the Government giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other hand?’
But first, let us sing the praises of the policy announced last midweek (September 15) by Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnav with an array of new telecom incentives. Spectrum user charges are being rationalized. More importantly, spectrum can now be shared, not just surrendered if needed. It encourages investors to put money into customer services and new technology. To ease the burden of interest payment on the dues during the moratorium, the companies are being given the option of doing it through equity. Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, for instance, could be big beneficiaries. Vodafone Idea owes the government around Re 50,000 crore while Bharti Airtel owes Re 26,000 crore, both big potential beneficiaries.
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