Vijay Kelkar and Niranjan Rajadhakshya had on op-ed out in Livemint recently on the mess in the telecom sector, and their suggestions for (at least partially) resolving it:
It has been about a year since the Supreme Court instructed telecom companies to share not just their core telecom revenues with the government, but also to take into account promotional offers to consumers, income from the sale of assets, bad debts that were written off, and dealer commissions. The apex court has allowed the affected telecom companies to make a small upfront payment and then pay their excess AGR dues to the government in ten annual instalments, from fiscal year 2021-22 to 2030-31, in an attempt to ease their immediate burden, which has raised concerns about the financial stability of Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. Analysts estimate that the extra annual payments by all telecom firms could be around ₹22,000 crore a year.https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/a-new-vajpayee-moment-for-the-troubled-indian-telecom-sector-11631123688457.html
Their suggestions for the resolution of this problem involve the issuance of zero-coupon bonds by the telecom companies, along with an option for the government to acquire a 10% equity stake. As always, please read the whole thing.
Now, this may work, this may not work. The more I try to read about this issue, the more pessimistic I get about a workable solution. But we’re not going to get into the issue of finding a “workable” solution today. We’re going to learn about how to think about this issue.
That is, what model/framework should we be using to assess a situation such as this? Kelkar and Rajadhakshya obviously have a model in mind, and they hint at it in this excerpt:
There are three broad policy concerns that need to be addressed in the context of the telecom sector: consumer welfare, competition and financial stability. Possible tariff hikes to generate extra revenues to meet AGR commitments will hurt consumer access. The inability to charge consumers more could mean that the three-player telecom market becomes a duopoly, through either a firm’s failure or acquisition. The banks that have lent to domestic telecom companies are also worried about their exposure in case AGR dues overwhelm the operating cash flows of these companies.https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/a-new-vajpayee-moment-for-the-troubled-indian-telecom-sector-11631123688457.html
So a solution is necessary, they say, because we need to have a stable telecom market that doesn’t hurt
a) the consumers,
b) the current players in this sector and
c) the financial sector that has exposure in terms of loans to the telecom sector
To this list I would add the following:
d) make sure the government doesn’t get a raw deal (and raw is a tricky, contentious and vague word to use here, but we’ll go with it for now)
e) make sure new entrants aren’t deterred from entering this space (if and when that will happen)
f) suppliers to the telecom sector shouldn’t be negatively impacted
In other words, any solution to the problem must be as fair as possible to all involved parties, shouldn’t change the status quo far too much in any direction, shouldn’t hinder the entry of new competition, and should give as fair a deal as possible to consumers.
Take a look at this diagram:
Students who are familiar with marketing theory are going to roll their eyes at this, but for the blissfully uninitiated, this is the famous Five Forces Analysis.
Porter’s Five Forces Framework is a method for analysing competition of a business. It draws from industrial organization (IO) economics to derive five forces that determine the competitive intensity and, therefore, the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of an industry in terms of its profitability.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porter%27s_five_forces_analysis
Michael Porter’s Five Forces Framework can be traced back to the structure-conduct-performance paradigm, so in a sense, it really is an industrial organization framework:
In economics, industrial organization is a field that builds on the theory of the firm by examining the structure of (and, therefore, the boundaries between) firms and markets. Industrial organization adds real-world complications to the perfectly competitive model, complications such as transaction costs, limited information, and barriers to entry of new firms that may be associated with imperfect competition. It analyzes determinants of firm and market organization and behavior on a continuum between competition and monopoly, including from government actions.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_organization
The point is that if you are a student trying to think through this (or any other problem of a similar nature), you should have a model/framework in mind. “If I am going to recommend policy X”, you should be thinking to yourself, “how will that impact Jio? Airtel? Vi? How will that impact government revenues? What signals will I be sending to potential market entrants? Will consumers be better off, and if so, are we saying that they will be better off in the short run, or on a more sustainable basis?”
Now sure, the diagram doesn’t include government, but the Wikipedia article on the Five Forces does speak about it later, as does the excerpt above from the Wikipedia article on Industrial Organization. More importantly, this framework gives one the impression that we’re dealing with a static problem, with no considerations given for time.
I would urge you to think about time, always, as a student of economics. Whether it be the circular flow of income diagram, or the five forces diagram, remember that your actions will have repercussions on the industry in question not just today, but for some time to come.
So whether you’re the one coming up with a solution, or you’re the one evaluating somebody else’s solution, you should always be evaluating these solutions with some framework in your mind. And tweaking the Five Forces model to suit your requirements is a good place to start!