TRAI’s green telecom efforts not sufficient, say experts

The telecom industry is receiving incentives and subsidies as part of the efforts to reduce the carbon footprint, but it is not doing enough in the major areas

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last month published a consultation paper on "Green Telecommunications" addressing various aspects like carbon footprints for the telecommunications industry. But, industry experts are questioning the incentives and subsidies provided to the sector to push the green agenda.

Professor Girish Kumar, of IIT Bombay, who has been undertaking research on the harmful effects of electro-magnetic radiation (EMR), asks: "Why does industry want incentives for green telecom? Is it not our duty as Indians to not pollute our own country? Should we not care for our people and environment?"

The paper says there are 3.1 lakh towers and about 60% of the power requirement is met through diesel generators and the rest is fulfilled by power from the grid. But Mr Kumar insists that there are more than 4.5 lakh towers in the country as of 2011 and that due to shortage of power nearly 59% of the requirement is met through diesel generators and this causes pollution.

He also pointed out that telecom operators enjoy unnecessary subsidy on diesel. He explained that telecom operators get Rs7 per litre subsidy on diesel. Since their consumption of diesel is 2 billion litres every year, they get a subsidy of Rs1,400 crore per year.

Mr Kumar suggested that the numbers of diesel generators can be reduced if power requirement is curbed by optimising telecom systems. The transmitted power from cell towers must be reduced from 100W to 2W, which will also help to control radiation.

Mr Kumar said, "The government should adopt immediate policy measure to reduce the transmitted power to a maximum 1W to 2W, so the energy requirement will be substantially reduced. Due to low energy requirement, there will be no need for cooling of the high-power amplifier, and thereby air-conditioning would also not be required in most of the cases and then this reduced power requirement can be provided through solar or other renewable energy."

Mr Kumar also raised the issue of the operators' demand for self-regulation of the industry. Telecom operators present for the discussion on the consultation paper had said that the government should try to regulate everything and operators must be allowed to self-certify that they are meeting all norms.

Mr Kumar said operators should not be allowed self-certification and that the government should introduce stringent policies and third-party monitoring of radiation levels and air pollution levels near cell towers. "Heavy penalties should be slapped in case of any violation as it is directly related to the health of people, birds, animals and the environment," he said.

Activist Jehangir Gai, said, "There should be an independent and competent third party regulation." Mr Gai explained, "Assuming that the telecom companies say that there are no health hazards, then of course there are some. Even if there is no conclusive study proving the health hazards due to cell towers, necessary precautions should be taken. It is always better to be on the safer side."

Moneylife has reported on the health hazards arising out of cells towers and the negligence on the part of the government to look into the issue. (Read 'Cell towers violate health and safety norms' , and 'DoT group proposes low radiation levels for cell towers' )

Mr Kumar said it is not enough for service providers to move indoor base transceiver stations (BTS) to outdoor BTS, switch off a few transmitters, and to adopt an automatic frequency plan and air cooling instead of air-conditioner to reduce carbon footprint.

He also recommended that telecom service operators emphasise on research and development to develop solutions, and that the government should come up with rules for 90% of telecom-related products to be manufactured in India, which would also help create millions of jobs in the country. (Also read,'Industry does not want to spend on more cell towers that will lower radiation'. )

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    India needs to focus more on digital infrastructure: James Murdoch

    With digitization, the Indian industry will finally have the incentives to invest and create. Even more important, local customers will have the content and choice—worthy of the nation’s rich diversity

    India has around 120 million TV households and yet there are only about 30 million home which have digital channels. This shows the need for the country to focus more on creating digital infrastructure said James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive, News Corp, Europe and Asia.

    Speaking at the FICCI FRAMES 2011 in Mumbai today, he said, "Digitisation brings content distribution and connectivity together-and helps them come alive. That is why the nations most determined to modernise their economies have put digital infrastructure at the top of their priorities. Digitization needs funding, it's true. So it is crucially important to relax investment and ownership regulations and align them to this objective."

    Though India has a large population, its creative potential remains below expectations. "If India's economy had a creative sector on the scale, relative to overall GDP, of Britain's, for example, instead of a $15-billion industry we would be talking about a $120-billion industry," Mr Murdoch said.

    "Digitisation is the key to unlocking the potential of the creative sector. With digitisation, the Indian industry will finally have the incentives to invest and create. Even more important, Indian customers will have the content and choice worthy of their nation's rich diversity. The second area is what we can do to bring Indian creators, storytellers, and journalists to the world's conversations. And this can only be done by ensuring that India's creative market is competitive at home," he added.

    AT present there are 550 TV channels in the country out of which around 400 are active. There are 106 channels which still use the analogue system to broadcast signals to 90 million homes. In addition, there are 300 TV channels ready to start broadcasting the moment they get licenses. Due to the dearth of digital infrastructure, broadcasters are forced to use analogue system and pay more money as carriage fees.

    Mr Murdoch said, "When competition is stifled by infrastructure, the scarcity of bandwidth drives the operator to price channel placement instead of investing in greater capacity. This makes things more expensive for the channel operator who has to recoup that higher cost out of advertising, spread ever so thinly across a fragmenting audience."

    India is a young country-and there are more mobile devices than TV sets in country. In order to reach out more to the audience, content providers from the media need to cater to this segment as well.
    "In India, there is more demand and scope for content for handheld devices," said Sachin Pilot, minister of state for communications and IT. He assured all possible help to the media and entertainment industry from the government.

    During the inaugural session, FICCI and KPMG released a report on Indian media and entertainment (M&E), which expects the segment to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14% to $28 billion by 2015, due to positive industry sentiment and growing media consumption. (Read FICCI-KPMG expects Indian media and entertainment industry to touch $28 billion by 2015:).

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    CRISIL expects milk prices to remain stable over next 12 months

    The ratings agency believes that while milk prices should remain stable over the next one year, in the medium term prices could go up due to an increase in demand and higher input costs

    Ratings agency CRISIL has said it expects milk prices to rise in the medium term, due to sustained demand-supply mismatch and increasing input costs, this despite the Indian government's recent order banning export of milk powder and casein. The Indian government's order to allow duty-free import of milk powder and butter would help enhance domestic supply over the near term and keep milk prices stable over the next 12 months, the ratings agency said in a report.

    "With exports forming less than 5% of the total milk production, and imports comprising a small portion of overall demand, the Indian government's measures will, at best, plug the demand-supply gap over the next 12 months," said Gurpreet Chhatwal, director, CRISIL Ratings.

    In February 2011, the government prohibited the export of milk powder and casein, with an aim to contain further price increases and shore up supplies. This constituted 70% of India's dairy product exports, estimated at $144 million in 2009-10. Furthermore, the Indian government has allowed the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) to import 30,000 tonnes of milk powder and 15,000 tonnes of butter and butter oil at zero duty, which will boost milk supply by up to 0.35 million tonnes.

    However, the ratings agency, said, with milk product exports forming around 5% of India's total milk production, and domestic demand for dairy products remaining strong, the demand-supply gap is expected to continue to widen over the medium term. This, along with increasing input (fodder and transportation) costs, will push milk prices up, over the next three to five years, the CRISIL report said.

    Manish Kumar Gupta, head, CRISIL Ratings, said, "Milk prices are expected to continue their upward trend over the next three to five years as domestic demand for milk and dairy products is expected to outpace supply."

    CRISIL Ratings, a unit of Standard & Poor's, said the impact of the ban on export of milk powder and casein is expected to be minimal on the credit risk profiles of 55 CRISIL-rated dairy players, including co-operative milk federations. This is because a buoyant demand scenario will enable these players to increase their sales in the domestic market, and pass on increases in prices of raw milk.

    In addition, flexibility in the production process will enable players in the dairy industry to shift production to milk and milk powder, for which there is a strong demand in the domestic market, rather than also produce casein, which has low demand in the country.

    The demand for milk and value-added dairy products in the domestic market has been growing at over 6% to 8% per annum supported by increasing incomes, rising aspirations, and consequent growth in per capita milk consumption. CRISIL, however, said it believes that the growth in milk production will continue to lag at around 4% to 5% per annum over the next five years, despite the government's plan to double India's milk production by 2020, through initiatives such as enhancing milk productivity through genetic improvement of milk animals, increasing availability of fodder, and incentivising farmers. This is mainly because the benefits of India's plans are expected to materialise after three to four years, CRISIL said.

    Speaking about the global milk prices, Mr Gupta said, "The global milk prices will remain high because of increasing demand from India and China. Import of milk and milk products will, therefore, not suffice to contain domestic milk prices."

    China has become a large importer of milk and milk products, since 2008, because of its growing affluence, increasing per capita milk consumption, and structural issues in milk supply, such as low animal productivity and outbreak of melamine contamination, which has all resulted in lower domestic production. In 2010, global trade in milk and milk products was thin, at 40 million tonnes, that is only 6% of global milk production, and may not be strong enough to absorb increasing import demand from India and China, without putting pressure on international milk prices, the ratings agency said.

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