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Competitive Neutrality in Liberalized Sectors of the Economy

Getting Regulation Right Blog Aspect
Dr Archana Gulati
Published Dec 28, 2014
Updated Sep 03, 2023
I have been blogging about the need for competitive neutrality mostly in the context of  broadband networks. However, the importance of regulatory neutrality would apply equally to any other liberalized sector be it say, power or airlines. I have written about this in a paper titled,
Interestingly, though seldom do papers in India comment on this problem in the context of telecommunications, I find mention of the issue in the context of power transmission. Thus the Financial Express has reported that,
The central power regulator’s bid to end public sector dominance in the transmission sector by putting in place a system to award new projects based on tariff-based competitive bidding (TBCB) is threatening to unravel with the power ministry deciding to virtually persist with the previous regime where the projects are given on a platter to the state-run Power Grid Corporation (PGCIL).
According to sources, the ministry has invoked a provision in the relevant Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) rules to give eight new transmission projects with an estimated cost of Rs 36,000 crore to PGCIL….The provision of “compressed time schedule” vests discretion with the ministry to nominate PGCIL for executing projects if it is convinced that the bidding route could delay projects that are of critical nature, requiring time-bound execution.
An industry official said: “Any incumbent that continues to have 70-80% market share will have a natural advantage over new entrants in terms of winning even future projects being bid out. Moreover, if that incumbent is a PSU, then it will have clear financing advantages which private players cannot match under current circumstances.”…
Criticising the government’s decision, an executive of a private firm involved in the transmission sector told FE on condition of anonymity that it was the need of the hour to encourage private participation in transmission so that it can bring global technologies to complete projects in compressed time schedules. 
This echoes what I have written about NOFN/BBNL. I particular in my paper titled,  The State of Broadband in India: A Call for Regulatory Neutrality” wherein I have specifically mentioned that,
“Public funding in a developing nation has to  be undertaken with particular care on account of the opportunity cost of allocating scarce resources. Subsidy schemes are designed to minimise costs and avoid duplicating expensive infrastructure. This could explain BSNL’s nomination in the Wireline Broadband scheme, its winning the bid in the Assam OFC scheme and its role in the forthcoming NOFN.  While this approach makes apparent sense in terms of short term financial prudence, its impact on the long term growth of the sector is unlikely to be positive given that it stifles competition and all its concomitant benefits. From a bureaucratic perspective, relying on public ownership or funding the incumbent is also perhaps more attractive in the short run in terms of relatively less time and effort estimated to commence roll outs (as against tendering/auction), even if we were to assume that public sector could and would deliver. However, the long term impact of monopoly ownership of even open access networks (on competition and accompanying aspects such as innovation/customer service/technological neutrality) merit consideration. If nothing else, our experience with monopoly in wire lines should have cautioned us. USOF had almost got it right with its regional OFC schemes, but it needs to be rescued from over specification of technology and incumbent -centric scheme design through regulation which insists inter alia on competitive neutrality. Thus, rather than doing away with USOF as is the demand of the aggrieved private sector, a relook at its regulatory structure and a focus on competitive neutrality would be the order of the day…”