If the government has its way, it will soon be ‘One Nation’ as far as telecom is concerned—with roaming charges becoming a thing of the past and countrywide number portability being the order of the day. Besides, broadband speed will go up more than nine times in four years and consumers may get a voice on quality of services in case of disputes with operators. There is also a move to cut costs for value-added services, such as text messages, as the government and the regulator prepare an “appropriate regulatory framework for delivery of VAS at affordable prices”. Over the years, call charges have dropped from over Rs 30 a minute to around 60 paise now but users have not benefited from competition when it comes to SMS. While improving the overall quality of service is a key feature of the draft National Telecom Policy 2011, another focus is to shift towards greater convergence between telecom, IT, broadcast and electronics to upgrade the quality of life and make it an instrument of empowerment. Also, the mobile will become a device of empowerment and can double as an identity proof, the draft says. The policy is moving from egovernance to m-governance as mobile telephony is now cheaper resulting in more people having access to phones. Explaining how the new telecom policy is moving from e-governance to m-governance, the paper released by communications minister Kapil Sibal said: “Basic banking services can be accessed via the mobile phone. Individual intimation of all kinds of public and private services like school/college admission/assignments, pension payment, utility bill payments, first level health services, cash withdrawals/deposits will become the norm. A single number could be called for all government services across all three tiers, 24/7.” The document recognized electronics as the weak link. The idea is to treat IT and telecom as a basic necessity—just like health or education—and “work towards ‘Right to Broadband’”. As part of the strategy, internet users can look forward to kissing goodbye to painfully slow broadband connections with the policy aiming to double the download speed to 512 kilobytes per second (Kbps) and then boosting it to 2 mega bps by 2015. But when it comes to most other aspects, the draft reads like a statement of intent with timelines missing. For instance, it talks about a review of roaming charges “with the ultimate objective of removing the roaming charge across the nation”. Given that mobile operators are already struggling under the weight of falling revenues, there is every chance that they will put up a stiff resistance to the proposal. In fact within hours of Sibal’s press conference, the red flags were already out over the ‘One Nation’ strategy. More opposition may be in store as the policy promises to adopt voice over internet protocol (VOIP) — a sore issue for the consumer that has been pending for years inspite of specific Trai recommendations in this regard. This move will help lower tariffs and cheer consumers. Phone users may have more reason to cheer as the government has proposed to strengthen the Trai Act and undertake legislative measures to bring disputes between telecom consumers and service providers within the jurisdiction of the Consumer Protection Act. Further, it talks of promoting informed consent, transparency and accountability in quality of service, tariff, usage and strengthen the grievance redress mechanisms to provide timely and effective resolution. These have been missing pieces despite the government announcing two policies —in 1994 and 1999 — to boost tele-density in the country. Now, the plan is to identify performance standards and benchmark quality of service against international standards. The government also proposed to mandate provision for web-based full disclosure of area coverage by telecom service providers.