India’s taxpayer has won in a war on corruption, but may well be losing an equivalent money again as a consumer, or likely, as a taxpayer
LATEST NEWS : We wish India’s telecom saga would be a Bollywood movie, with a happy ending. But what we have witnessed since the May of 1994, when India began slowly easing the state grip on telecoms to usher in everything from private players to mobile phones to the Internet, is a long-winding soap opera. In line with the spirit of the saas-bahu nation, we can announce that Reliance Jio is the much loved and hated new bahu (daughter-in-law) in this opera, impressing everyone and upsetting the older order.
If you are looking not for entertaining conflicts but deep wisdom, it is this: India’s taxpayer has won in a war on corruption, but may well be losing an equivalent money again as a consumer, or likely, as a taxpayer.
Does it matter if someone picks your right pocket instead of left to take out the same amount of money?
Last fortnight was eventfully momentous. Airtel swallowed up Tata Teleservices in the latest episode of industry consolidation, even as Idea Cellular’s shareholders formally approved its acquisition of Vodafone.
Reliance Jio, the Mukesh Ambani-led entity strangely representing a mix of new entry with old behemoth power, signalled it was walking to profit earlier than expected after its big-bang entry with cut-rate mobiles and data packs. It is already showing operating profit while established giants struggle to keep customers. It has nearly 140 million customers and more than Rs 7,000 crore in quarterly revenues, and is not yet one year old.
But you should be looking beyond these big headlines at what the saas (established mother-in-law) is doing in this soap opera. Vodafone, even as it merged with Idea Cellular, quietly went to court against the recent order of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that slashed interconnect usage charges that clearly aided Reliance Jio. The IUC cut is being described as both unconstitutional and against the TRAI Act, this is a serious challenge.
And why not? Established incumbents spent years building towers and other network equipment, and then spent huge amounts buying up spectrum. Reliance Jio has spent relatively less on spectrum as a direct 4G entrant with a shrewd strategy that was focused on the long-term future and the complex dynamics of the mobile Internet market. Like a kangaroo jumping over others in a race of goats.