India’s richest man and the chairman of Reliance Industries, Mukesh Ambani, has called for the use of universal obligation fund money to subsidize mobile devices.
USO fund was set up during the early days of the mobile phone revolution as a tax or levy on existing phone users, to be used for extending telecom services in rural and remote areas.
This was done due to the feeling that private service providers may not find it commercially attractive to roll out their services in thinly populated and/or lower income areas.
As such, the money from USO fund is being given to both private players, as well as BSNL, to set up and maintain telecom infrastructure in rural areas, including mobile towers and as well as fixed line networks.
However, Ambani said, today one of the key hindrances to gaining access to high-speed data services is the high-price of devices such as tablets and mobile phones.
Speaking at this year’s India Mobile Congress virtually, Ambani said:
“Affordability has been a critical driver of the phenomenally rapid expansion of the mobile subscriber base in India. India should move towards greater digital inclusion, and not greater exclusion. When we talk of affordability in the policy context, we only think of affordability of services.
“Actually, India needs to ensure affordability of not only services, but also devices and applications. The best way of ensuring comprehensive affordability is nimble adoption of futuristic technologies, and supportive policy tools, such as the USO fund for purposes other than services. The USO fund can be used to subsidize devices.”
Ambani’s Jio Infocomm has already introduced JioPhone Next, a entry-to-mid-range smartphone at an upfront cost of only Rs 1,999. The remaining cost of the phone, around Rs 5,000, is paid in the form of equal monthly installments over the next 1.5-2 years.
Ambani also said his company, Jio Fiber, has completed giving 5 million broadband connections in India.