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Experts explore key challenges, future prospects of telecommunication sector

Experts explore key challenges, future prospects of telecommunication sector

The telecommunication landscape is rapidly evolving, enabling information dissemination to every corner of the world. Under the liberalization framework established by the Telecommunications Act, 1996, Nepal Telecom and Ncell currently offer mobile services, while approximately 120 companies provide internet services.

The Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) regulates these service providers. Despite widespread mobile usage, revenue generation, and contributions to the government, there are looming uncertainties in the telecommunication sector.

Of the six telecom companies licensed by the government, only Nepal Telecom and Ncell remain operational. The current discussion in the sector revolves around the affordability and reliability of the services provided, the incorporation of new technologies, and how consumer interests are prioritized in these services. To address these contemporary issues, AP1 HD  organized a day-long discussion on the current status and future trajectory of telecommunications. Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Purna Bahadur Khadka inaugurated the program. 

Speaking at the discussion, Captain Rameshwar Thapa, chairman of Annapurna Media, said there is a need to assess the present state of the telecommunication sector and plan for the future.

“I am confident that the collaborative discussions involving all stakeholders would guide the telecommunications sector,” Captain Thapa said. “We need to put focus on communication technology to achieve the government's goal of a digital Nepal, contributing not only to the prosperity of the telecommunication sector but also to the overall development of the country.”

Captain Thapa also said embracing technology to enhance accessibility will empower citizens and facilitate responsible governance for the government. “I urged the concerned entities to eliminate policy ambiguities and actively support the expansion of telecommunication services for the benefit of the public,” he added.

Addressing the program, Deputy Prime Minister Khadka said information and communication technology has become a crucial component of power in today's context. He also highlighted the significance of telecommunication in the challenging and remote terrains of Nepal. “Telecommunication holds greater importance than other infrastructures in Nepal,” he said, adding: “The rapid advancement of modern technology in the telecommunication sector and the dynamic changes in its structure is creating new opportunities. The government will prioritize the development and management of the telecommunication sector and ensure secure and accessible telecommunication services for all.”

Khadka said continuous investments in cutting-edge technology and unwavering efforts in innovation are opening new avenues for economic growth, social development, and overall progress. “The government will facilitate the sector by addressing political ambiguities and resolving legal complications in the telecommunication sector,” he added.

Additionally, Finance Secretary Dr. Krishna Hari Pushkar pointed out that the service providers in the telecommunication sector have yet to fully realize their potential, and the experts in the field have not effectively demonstrated their expertise. “The government remains committed to facilitating development, expansion, and business growth of the telecommunication sector. “If you think there are things that the government needs to look into, do inform us in writing. The ministry will promptly address them,” he added. 

Also speaking at the program, former minister and Nepali Congress leader Dr. Minendra Rijal highlighted the transformative impact of telecommunication technology in the Nepali society. “The key challenge in the sector is infrastructure development and expansion. I want to ask the NTA, who will undertake the construction of telecommunication infrastructure, and where will the funding come from? Given global investments in this sector, we need a thorough debate and discussion on this matter,” he added.

The second session of the program comprised four panel discussions. In the first panel discussion, titled “Mobile Telecommunication and Licensing Regime in Nepal,” moderated by telecommunication expert Anand Raj Khanal, Netra Subedi, joint secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, said a new telecommunications bill is in the process of being introduced. He expressed confidence that the new bill would address existing challenges within the telecommunications sector. Similarly, Gorkna Prasad Sitaula, a member of the Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA), added that the new bill aims at clarifying the ambiguity surrounding the renewal fees for telecommunications companies.

According to the Telecommunications Act, 1996, licenses must be renewed every 25 years with a renewal fee of Rs 20bn. This implies that Nepal Telecom and Ncell would need to renew their licenses in 2024/25 and 2028/29, respectively.

Sudhir Parajuli, President of the Internet Service Providers Association of Nepal, underlined the need to create an environment favorable not only for mobile phones but also for internet service providers in the new law. Bishal Upadhyay, head of Law and Regulation at Ncell, said that the Act of 1996 is outdated as technology has progressed from 2G to 5G. He said that service providers were increasing their investment with technological advancements.

The second panel discussion, titled ‘Telecommunication and Digital Nepal Framework’, moderated by information technology expert Manohar Bhattarai, featured discussions on the achievements of the Digital Nepal Framework released in 2019. Anil Dutt, joint secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, said that 90 percent of the specified targets had been achieved. He also mentioned that an amendment to the Nepal Telecommunications Act was in progress. Meen Prasad Aryal, director of NTA, shared that infrastructure expansion in rural areas was being funded by utilizing two percent of the amount collected from service providers. Rajesh Lal Nyachhyon of Ncell called for collaboration between the government and the private sector in the telecommunication sector. Sudeep Acharya, Director-General of DisHome Fiber Net, called for reduction of high taxes imposed for Internet service providers.\

The third panel discussion, titled ‘Consumers, Makers, and Quality of Service’, moderated by journalist Sama Thapa, addressed concerns about service quality. Speaking at the discussion, Arjun Ghimire, a director of NTA, said the regulator has been giving strict instructions to service providers to address service sector complaints. Kamal Lamichhane, manager of Nepal Telecom, acknowledged existing problems but assured that service quality was improving gradually. 

Likewise, Jyoti Dahal, customer service manager of Ncell, noted that services are becoming cheaper with improved quality over time. Consumer activist Madhav Timilsina highlighted that there are more complaints about services than goods, particularly in mobile services, urging stakeholders to uphold consumer rights.

The final panel discussion, ‘Role of Spectrum and Infrastructure in Telecommunication’, was moderated by telecommunication expert Anand Raj Khanal. Speaking at the discussion, Rabindra Jha, a board member of the NTA, said that the government determines mobile frequency allocations, and the NTA implements them accordingly. Lena Keshari Kansakar, CTO of Ncell, underlined the need for a frequency policy based on a thorough market study. She said that frequency limitations have hindered telecom operators from expanding into new areas. C Mani Choulagai, a telecommunications expert, however, said that frequency limitations are not a pressing issue as the demand is primarily for 900 and 1800 MHz bands.