MUMBAI: Telecom minister Manoj Sinha today said there is no proposal to merge state-run telecom companies Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam (MTNL).
"There is no proposal to merge BSNL and MTNL. We had appointed a consultant to revive MTNL, who has given some recommendations. We are working on it," the minister said on the sidelines of a conference here.
He, however, did not elaborate on the recommendations of the consultant but reiterated that no merger proposal for the state-run firms is on the cards.
The publicly-listed MTNL serves the national capital and financial capital alone, while the unlisted BSNL serves the rest of the country and also anchors several key projects for the government.
A May 7 news report had quoted an unnamed official saying that there is a proposal given by the central public sector enterprises to merge all the state-run telecom firms, to create a public sector behemoth.
Sinha, who was speaking on the sidelines of the department of telecom-organised seminar on 5G technology, said the government will do it all to ensure that the country gets the latest generation telephone services.
"Getting 5G to reality is our government's priority and we are serious about it," he said.
Speaking at the same event, BSNL's chairman and managing director Anupam Shrivastava quoted some estimates which peg the total investments required for a pan-India rollout of 5G services at up to Rs 50 lakh crore, but affirmed that the industry will deploy the technology by December 2019.
It can be noted that the entry of Reliance Jio in 2016, coupled with policy initiatives like the deep cut in the interconnect user charges have led to financial troubles at a majority of the telecom companies, consolidation in the sector and job losses.
When asked if the government will help by way of cheaper availability of spectrum given the importance of 5G, Sinha hinted that the department may help by approaching the Supreme Court (SC), which had passed a judgement asking for sale of spectrum assets.
"There's a SC order in 2G case. We are bound by that. We've asked TRAI to give recommendations and on that basis, if needed, we will approach SC," he said.
He, however, added that the 5G services will be rolled out by a multitude of players beyond the current set of battered telecom service providers (TSPs).
"TSPs are facing financial difficulties due to competition. But 5G roll out will not be only by TSPs; there will also be others investing in it depending on use cases. And if need be, the government will help. We are not going to miss the 5G bus this time," the minister said.
With reports pegging loss of about 90,000 jobs due to the ongoing woes in the industry, Sinha said it is incorrect to say that there have been job losses.
The entry of Reliance Jio has created many job, down till the neighbourhood seller of connections, while the state has also pitched in with projects like public wi-fi and Bharatnet which have created jobs, he said.
The minister said it has been a phase of consolidation in the telecom sector acorss the world and India cannot be insulated from it.
He exuded confidence that the market will "stabilise" with the fewer operators that are currently on board.