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The man behind unified licensing

Thomas K Thomas | December 15, 2003

DPS SethIndustry pundits credit Dr  D P S Seth for the good things that are finally happening in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ever since the new team took over under Pradip Baijal.

"Amidst bureaucrats and economists, finally there is someone in Trai who is passionate about technology and has been so close to the Indian telecom industry for over 35 years," says a cellular operator.

It's only been a year since Seth joined as a member in Trai, but when it comes to making a sound policy on telecom, he is the favoured adviser to many -- from Communications Minister Arun Shourie to senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office.

Seth is also seen as the behind-the-scenes architect in designing the new unified access regime that has ended the three-year-long turf war between cellular and basic operators over WiLL limited mobility.

Though Shourie and Baijal are clearly responsible for pursuing the policy on unified access, despite fierce opposition, it was Seth who had initially propagated the theory.

Two years ago, as chairman and managing director of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Seth was among the first few who said that a single licence was the way forward despite the fact that the department of telecom was then opposed to the concept.

A modest Seth says, "It's true that I visualised a single licence regime way back, but there were many others. It is unfair to give me the credit; we work as a team in Trai."

A graduate from the Indian Institute of Science, Seth is an Indian Telecom Services, 1965, batch officer.

Having taken a PhD in microwave technology from Liverpool University,  Canada, Seth spent 18 years of his initial career in research and development, a stint that has helped him to not just survive but thrive in a tough sector.

"I learnt a lot in Canada and during my years in research. I learnt how one has to be receptive to new ideas and the importance of discussions in arriving at any decisions," says the 5-foot-2-inch tall technocrat.

Not that Seth has always enjoyed ringing success. His low point came when he was forced to unceremoniously give up the chairmanship of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

Industry rumour mills blame Seth's exit to differences with Pramod Mahajan, then minister for communications, but Seth chose to play down the past.

"There is nothing in it, it's best not to talk about it." For the record, the initial planning of BSNL's cellular network, which has become the second largest operator today, was done during Seth's tenure.

Following his exit from BSNL, the next one year was that of indifference, though he was finally re-surfaced as member, Telecom Commission, the apex telecom policy making body in the country.

Seth, who suffered a near-crippling leg injury in a car accident in 1969, is now giving Baijal the ammunition to push through with major telecom reforms, including a full merger of all telecom licences and a revamp of the dying Internet and broadband services providers' market.

An avid reader with special interest in geography, Seth has two more years to go in Trai. His biggest job, however, is to remove the tag of Trai being biased towards basic operators.

It remains to be seen whether Seth, who has seen it all as researcher, a corporate head and a policy maker will be to able change the geography of the booming telecom sector in his latest avatar.

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