'Impact assessment of proposed satellite spectrum auction absolutely critical'

On cross-media ownership, Anil Bhardwaj, Director General, TCSR and Advisor (Broadcasting), TRAI, said that there has to be some mechanism and added that one entity cannot control everything

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'Impact assessment of proposed satellite spectrum auction absolutely critical'

There are challenges to publishing regulatory impact assessments - including potential misuse of shortcomings and lack of exact data. Nonetheless, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) conducts an internal impact assessment to review regulations, said Anil Bhardwaj, Director General, TCSR and Advisor (Broadcasting), TRAI, on Thursday. 

Bhardwaj was responding to the comments made by Mihir Rale, Chief Regional Counsel, Disney Star India, during FICCI Frames 2023 held in Mumbai.

Speaking about proposed satellite spectrum auctions, Rale said, “Some of the current things we are talking about include spectrum auction and looking at getting maximum value from that. There is no doubt that spectrum is a natural resource and it should be used in the interest of people. The question comes whether that interest lies only in the modernisation of it or it actually lies in certain segments. Does it lie in ensuring the plurality of voices?” 

There needs to be a lot more deliberation which cannot happen over the course of six months or one year. It may take even longer because the impact assessment is absolutely critical, he stated. 

Bhardwaj said that there is a consultation which is ongoing regarding the satellite spectrum auction. 

“There are certain principles which include that whatever is the way of allocation has to be equitable and the price has to be market determined. Those are the principles with which TRAI is right now dealing with. In an ongoing exercise, we need to find a methodology to price that public resource. I want to re-emphasise that our core is not consumer welfare alone. In fact, the preamble says that we have to balance the interest of both our service provider and the consumer,” Bhardwaj stated.  

“Whenever we look at something - including the impact assessment, we undertake some regulatory impact assessment. It has not yet become a culture of publishing that but if we are reviewing a regulation within 36 months of implementing, definitely it is after some impact assessment,” he added. 

Furthermore, he said there are two main reasons for not publishing an impact assessment. 

“Firstly, sometimes we do not like that our shortcomings may be misused and misquoted. Secondly, we are actually a very data-efficient regulator so you should have that exact data to identify the impact and change. We do not have those kinds of numbers. However, we do have an internal impact assessment and that is how we keep reviewing the regulations,” Bhardwaj stated. 

Speaking about cross-media ownership, Bhardwaj said, "If any one group/conglomerate is controlling everything, even the media side, it perhaps won't be good for us. We are deeply looking at the cross-media ownership matter. There has to be some mechanism that one entity cannot control everything.”

Rahul Vatts, Chief Regulatory Officer, Airtel, said, “What is very defining in all these forward-looking regulations and setting of a regulator is that stakeholders' interests need to be taken forward and the biggest stakeholder is the customer. So, that's the starting point for most of the regulators in terms of how you will protect the consumers and ensure that their journey remains the best.”

He went on to say that one other principle that most of the regulators follow relates to transparency. Whatever the regulator is trying to do, there is a rational reason behind it and that reason is transparently shared with everybody.

“That is why it starts from, let's say, TRAI coming up with the consultation and then necessarily holding an open-house discussion. After these processes, a regulation comes,” Vatts stated. 

Furthermore, he stated that some regulators have also used another principle that, before making any sweeping changes, they sometimes produce draft documents. Another important stakeholder in the journey is the investors who have chosen to go and invest in a market and today there are substantial investments being made by people.

“I also see a very good practice that TRAI has initiated which is related to the fact that now there is a joint committee on regulators and a lot of issues are getting discussed in that joint forum,” Vatts stated. 

“We have requested our own regulator TRAI to also look at the regulatory impact assessment. As to what is the impact of the changes that we are bringing in and how it will impact customers and other stakeholders. What is going to be the cost of the changes is also a very important principle,” he added.

Mihir Rale Rahul Vatts Anil Bhardwaj cross-media ownership TRAI FICCI Frames 2023 regulatory impact assessment FICCI impact assessment