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NEW DELHI : India’s telecom czars on Wednesday called for a reduction in litigation and levies, months after the embattled industry was extended a lifeline by the government.

Speaking at the India Mobile Congress, where top telecom executives congregate annually, Mukesh Ambani, chairman of India’s largest telecom operator Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, said the economy would bounce back rapidly because of the quick adoption of technology, which had kept the country going since the pandemic.

“During covid, when the chips were down, it was the chipsets that kept us going. When covid-induced lockdowns rocked our boats, it was technology that kept our lives and livelihoods afloat," Ambani said.

Given the crucial role of the sector in digitization, Bharti Airtel Ltd chairman Sunil Mittal urged the Centre to cut down on litigation, reduce levies and make spectrum affordable for operators. “One area where they need to lower the temperature of our industry is really in the area of litigation. A lot of litigation still remains. There are cases right from TDSAT, high courts to Supreme Court," Mittal said at the virtual event, adding that old cases should be settled and new cases must be avoided.

In September, the government moved to reduce the burden on the stressed sector by approving a relief package. It included a four-year moratorium on payment of statutory dues by telecom companies and 100% foreign direct investment in telecom operators through the automatic route.

Ambani called for migration of telecom subscribers to 4G and 5G from legacy networks, affordable data and devices for driving digital inclusion while batting for the national rollout of 5G on priority and countrywide fibre connectivity. He said policy tools such as the Universal Services Obligation (USO) Fund should subsidize devices and help in digital inclusion.

Mittal said high levies and exorbitant spectrum prices required urgent resolution to fuel growth. “Duties still remain high. That has been an industry demand for a long time. Spectrum also remains expensive," he said.

Aditya Birla group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said support from the banking sector was crucial for the growth of the telecom industry. “Further steps in ease of doing business, and support from the banking sector would significantly enhance the sector strength and ensure India remains at the cutting edge of global technology trends," he said, adding that the mobile industry would play a vital role in achieving the government’s vision of a $5 trillion economy by 2025. Birla added that the industry should collectively address the need for continued investments to accelerate the digital shift.

Communications and information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the government was open to reforms and sought suggestions from the industry on issues of network security and the regulatory framework. “People want telecom devices, telecom equipment, network, operating systems, everything to be from trusted sources. New geopolitical realities are facing us," he said, asking the industry for suggestions of a good framework under such circumstances.

The minister said the industry should provide suggestions for coping with rapid changes in technology, making digital services more inclusive, the transition from legacy networks without disruption and bettering the quality of services for consumers.

“Our government is open to new ideas. We are open to more reforms," he said, while explaining that the government wanted to benchmark its regulatory framework with the best in the world, and the industry should come up with suggestions.

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