This article examines Indian telecom policy from independence to the present. Dividing this period into three phases – from 1947 to 1984, 1984 to 1991 and 1991 to the present – the article explores the role of the state in India’s dramatic transformation from a telecommunications laggard to one of the world’s largest markets in mobile communication. It draws on a wide range of government documents, institutional surveys (domestic and international) of Indian telephony, memoirs and analyses by policy officials, and interviews with telecom executives. This article makes two arguments. First, it emphasizes the importance of external forces, including economic pressures, obligations to foreign creditors and the arrival of outsiders into key policymaking positions. Second, it provides an alternative to the simplistic argument that the state has ‘left telecommunications to the private sector’. Rather than abandon its role in network building and maintenance, the Indian government has deployed its power in specific and deliberate ways. While much of this policy development was unanticipated and at times accidental, Indian telephony has been transformed from an inward-looking and defensive statist monopoly to an internationalized, technocratic marketplace.
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- mobile communication