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Technology is the biggest driver of the economy, creating new jobs, connecting the unconnected, delivering government services to every corner of the country including rural markets, becoming a tool for ambitious and timely government programs like Digital India, Skill India, Smart Cities, Make in India and many others. The country is also benefitting from e-education, e-health, telemedicine and e-governance bringing about a never before openness in data, accountability and transparency. Telecom is the sector contributing substantially high revenues to the government, which is then used for higher benefit. It is also the unsung hero and therefore requires urgent reforms. Predictability backed by a stable regulatory regimen can create conducive environment for continued investments, which are prerequisites for a fully-connected, digitally-empowered India. The latter assumes significance given the government’s push to promote initiatives like Skill India, Make in India and a less-cash economy.

The year 2016, has been unsettling for the industry. The country experienced transformation from voice to a data centric market.

The current year will be a landmark year in the Indian telecom industry. On one side, the much-awaited sector consolidation took place as the Government introduced some relevant policies including spectrum sharing and trading while on the other hand, there was a new entrant offering free voice calls and low-cost data. The industry welcomed the entry of a new operator and saw unprecedented customer acquisition of over 100 million subscribers in such a short span of time. While freebies and rock bottom prices worked in the short run in favour of consumers, they also accelerated the already worsening financial situation of the telecom sector. The industry is in financial distress and continues to see pressure on the profitability of the operators. Steep decline in data tariffs, domestic voice revenue and increasing Government levies and taxes are adversely impacting their profitability and sustainability.

Going forward, the industry will have to continue to labour to recuperate from this financial distress to make significant progress towards the ambitious targets of Digital India set by the Government. The need of the hour, therefore, is to have policy and regulatory stability along with financial relief from high Government taxes and levies, so as to enable the industry to invest in growth of data services and provide connectivity to all.

Amidst these challenging times, I present the Annual Report for the year 2016-2017.

FROM THE DIRECTOR GENERAL’S DESK
The year 2015-16 was an inflection year for the industry having weathered spiraling spectrum costs post auction, network optimization issues, large scale introduction of 3G/ 4G networks and services besides having faced serious challenges including call drops arising out of difficulties in locating cell towers and obtaining Right of Way.
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STATUS ON POLICY AND REGULATORY ISSUES
Recent events in the Indian telecom industry indicate a positioning of the business for the future. The sector is emerging from a dark period of pessimism and disappointment and operators are drawing out growth strategies as regulatory clarity emerges for the sector. The Government did announce some significant initiatives - like the much-awaited policy on mergers and acquisitions and permitting of 100 per cent foreign investment in the sector - which will drive Indian telecom in the years to come.
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INDUSTRY INITIATIVES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
During the year, COAI dealt with various issues of importance to the industry.
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OTHER ACTIVITIES OF THE ASSOCIATION
COAI continued in its endeavor to be at the forefront of national and international events held in the year 2013-14, including Mobile World Congress at Barcelona, ITU events, etc. that addressed issues and matters of interest to our members and industry.
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GROWTH DRIVERS FOR FUTURE
As stated earlier, we are hopeful for better times in the coming year, especially with the new Government taking charge. The telecom industry and the Government need to work together to attract investments and exploit advances in technology. With the success in voice-connectivity being carried forward to data and emerging technologies including cloud computing, we at COAI are aware of the dynamism that will be required and the Regulatory initiatives by the Government and TRAI which will have long term benefits for the industry.
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