“Telecom can help turnaround socio-economic development”

Anand Raj Khanal is currently Senior Director as well as Acting CEO of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA), an independent and autonomous telecom sector regulator of the country. In his exclusive interview with ceotab.com, he divulges his views on the various vital aspects of the Nepali telecom sector. Excerpts:

 1. How well the NTA is playing its role as the telecommunications regulatory body of the country?

Despite several problems and challenges, the NTA is making efforts to fulfill its roles, responsibilities, and duties set out in the Telecommunication Act and various policies. Our prime aim is to ensure an enabling and competitive environment for expediting the growth of telecommunications service market.  In order to achieve such objective, the authority has been granting licenses to private telecom service operators, setting the quality standard of the telecommunication related equipment and services, and providing pieces of advice to the government on the plan, policy, and program required for the development of telecommunications sector, among others.

On the other side, this autonomous entity is engaged in frequency management under which frequency is assigned to telecom service providers.  It also carries out frequency monitoring tasks to avert the illicit use of frequency as well as mitigate any interference among its users

2.  What are the major steps undertaken by the NTA in order to expand the telecommunications services across the country?

Currently, the prime focus of the NTA is on creating a robust, scalable, future-proof broadband infrastructure throughout the country by mobilizing the Rural Telecommunication Development Fund (RTDF) that contains billions of rupees.

The NTA has already signed separate contract papers with three telcos- Nepal Telecom, United Telecom Limited, and Smart Telecom Pvt Ltd.- to build and expand optical fiber backbone network connecting all the district headquarters, municipalities through the Mid-Hill Highway. Such network also links the North-South Highway to the East-West Highway and Mid-Hill Highway.

Nepal Telecom is building such network in Province No. 1, 2 and 3, United Telecom Limited in Province No. 4 and 5 and Smart Telecom in Province No. 6 and 7. These three companies are mobilizing Rs 4.87 billion, Rs 2.01 billion and Rs 3.01 billion respectively in this regard.

Similarly, the Authority has already permitted the Nepal Telecom, Subisu Cable Network Pvt. Ltd. and Mercantile Communications Pvt. Ltd. to install broadband service in rural municipalities, ward offices, health institutions etc. in eleven earthquake-affected districts-Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Kavrepalanchok, Sindhupalchok,Gorakha, Dhading, Makwanpur, Okhaldhunga, Sindhuli, Ramechhap and Dolakha. It will cost around Rs 666 million in total for these three companies for installing such a service.

In fact, the NTA is mainly focused on building and expanding the broadband backbone and access network across the country in line with the basic tenets of the Broadband Policy,2015 and ICT Policy. 2015.

3.  Of late, there have been rising concerns that internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom companies are favoring particular sites or services in their networks. Is the NTA taking any measure in this regard?

Well, the concept of net neutrality is triggering debates not only in the national market but also in the global market.  This concept is all about making it mandatory for the ISPs to ensure equal access to all contents, applications, websites and network facilities for the customers without being biased towards particular products or websites.

In the Nepali context, we are preparing to come up with a regulatory framework by defining “net neutrality” which will form a part of the license conditions for all Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

As a matter of fact, a month back an independent committee was also formed at the NTA under my coordination to carry out a study on the net neutrality issues and suggest appropriate provisions in the framework draft.  We have already forwarded the recommendations to the NTA board.

4.  It is argued that the Infrastructure Sharing Regulation, 2017  could stifle free competition by allowing a single firm to enjoy a complete monopoly in the telecom infrastructure services market. What is your take on this issue?

The regulation has categorically stated that two independent service providers shall be granted the license to undertake the telecom infrastructure projects. So, there is no question of a single firm enjoying exclusive rights in the market.

Allowing the telecom companies to undertake infrastructure development on their own is haphazard, time- consuming and costly.  Moreover, there could be a serious loss of efficiency through unnecessary duplication of resources.

In this light, the regulation also aims to address such problems by making two or more telcos share infrastructures like mobile towers, powers, shelters etc. with mutual sharing condition.  This way, they can invest more in acquiring advanced telecom equipment and expanding service quality by curtailing their huge expenses on civil infrastructure building. If this happens,  it will ultimately result in affordable and high quality of service to the customers.

 5. What is the general scenario of the Nepali telecom sector what measures are needed to expedite its growth?

Currently, the telecom operators are using  PSTN, Wireless in the Local Loop ( WLL using CDMA technology), VSAT, GSM, CDMA, 3G, 4G, GMPCS to provide voice service. Similarly, they are using 3G, CDMA 1X –EVDO, 4G, WiMAX, FTTH, cable Modem, radio, VSAT, etc. for providing Internet services.

The sector, no doubt, has been witnessing an exponential growth over the years.  The adoption of the liberal economic policy, augmenting awareness on the significance of information and communication technologies and impacts of globalization,  among other factors, can be attributed to such growth.

Nepal’s telephone penetration or teledensity and broadband penetration  have crossed 130% and 50%  respectively as of mid- June 2018

Nevertheless, the telecom sector is in dire need of some measures to further bolster its growth. First and foremost, the Telecom Policy (2004), ICT Policy (2014) and Broadband Policy (2015) should be implemented in an integrated way through necessary amendments in the existing acts and regulation.  Similarly, there is a need to come up with a separate regulation on merger and acquisition to consolidate the telecom service market by ensuring healthy competition.  Settling the renewal fees of the mobile license and basic telephone license for the second and third time is also something that warrants serious attention.

On the one hand, the telecom sector is an industry which has to focus on developing world-class infrastructure to offer affordable, reliable and quality service to continue to bolster its growth.  On the other, it, as a form of information and communication technology, is a vibrant tool to help expedite the growth of other sectors.   Realizing this fact, we need to develop appropriate applications and contents. Such initiation can contribute to the entire socio-economic development of the country in a sustainable fashion.

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