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The government plans to overhaul outdated telecom regulations to lift constraints that have hindered the industry’s growth and may also consider making 5G spectrum more affordable, a top official said.

The changes aim to reduce excessive regulations, litigation and pending cases, addressing a key demand of the industry. The move comes after the Centre announced a rescue package for the struggling telecom sector.

The government is considering several options, including a new law or changes to existing laws, to boost growth amid rapid technological shifts.

The sector, primarily governed by the 1885 Indian Telegraph Act and the 1933 Wireless Telegraphy Act, has seen massive technological advancement over the past decade, rendering old statutes unsuitable for regulating the industry. “There is a series of rules and regulations that have got built up over 80 years that needs to be simplified. These are things that may not have a financial number around them, but the impact these things make will be over decades, that changes the structure of the industry," communications and information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said in an interview.

The structural changes to the industry will ‘definitely’ address the issue of high litigation, the minister said, adding Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set an internal target of benchmarking India’s telecom regulation with the global best.

“We would like industry to focus on new investments, innovation, connecting the unconnected, which is the basic tenet of our government, rather than litigating. So much of the simplification that needs to be done will obviously impact litigation. Already, many cases have become defunct after the change in the definition of AGR (aggregate gross revenue)," he said.

On whether the government would consider fresh legislation to aid the growth of communication and digital services, Vaishnaw said, “We have to look at all the options."

The next set of reforms is unlikely to focus on rationalization of levies or taxes, even as the department has recommended that the finance ministry consider refunding credits of more than 50,000 crore stuck under goods and services tax.

Vaishnaw said while the recommendations have been sent, the issue was extremely complex, and a near-term solution to the issue may not be at hand.

“All that money collected is already deployed. There are too many complications. Then there is the GST Council. It’s a very complex issue," he said.

On high 5G spectrum prices, Vaishnaw said the government is thinking about making the airwaves a public good rather than a revenue maximization tool, indicating some relief for telecom operators. “There is certainly an element of public good in the sector. Some countries have taken extreme steps of even de-licensing and making it zero-cost. After covid everybody realizes it’s telecom that is supporting everything," he said.

On Thursday, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) extended the last date for submitting views on 5G spectrum auctions till 10 January instead of 28 December. The last date for counter-comments has been extended to 24 January instead of 11 January next year.

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