In his first interview after the end of 4G spectrum auctions, Union telecommunications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, with the sale now over, operators must focus less on legal battles and more on providing quality services given that the sector has stabilised. Speaking to ET, Prasad underlined the success of the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for smartphones, saying applicants have already produced goods worth Rs 35,000 crore at an investment of Rs 1,300 crore. Edited excerpts:The 4G auctions have just ended, but the government could sell only 37% of the spectrum. Why?Please look at it in the larger context. Out of the Rs 4 lakh crore amount that we had fixed, the prime band was not auctioned. Yet, we could get Rs 78,000 crore. In 2016, there were seven players, this time only three. This only shows that players are keen to offer good 4G services for consumer satisfaction. The government expected only about Rs 45,000 crore. Why did the operators purchase so much? This means there is a strong business case to buy the resource.Will the government reduce the price of the 700 MHz band?If a band is untouched in the auction, then we send it to Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) for fresh pricing.Given the hefty payout by telcos, tariffs are bound to rise…All I can say is that operators have realised that QoS (quality of service) has come into the centre of the ecosystem of communications.Experts say the telecom sector has seen huge erosion of wealth in the last few years…Numbers indicate the exact opposite. Number of smartphones has risen from 16.5 crore in 2014 to 70 crore in 2020. Smartphones nowadays mean mobile computers. Data usage has increased 130 times — from 89.4 MB per subscriber per month in 2014 to 12.1 GB in 2020. Therefore, this shows a surge in consumer appetite. Data tariff has decreased more than 23 times — from Rs 269 per GB to Rs 10.95 per GB, because of fair competition. Total Internet subscribers are 77.6 crore, tele-density is at 86.22%, broadband subscribers are 72.6 crore. Therefore, there is a proliferation of telecom networks and broadband services everywhere.Telcos, however, say they are still in heavy debt, prices are too low, that they are still suffering due to high levies. Even now, there are fresh cases related to AGR (adjusted gross revenue).Let me make an appeal to the TSPs (telecom service providers) as both the communications and the law minister. They have fought too many legal battles. That is their right. They have spent too much of their earnings on legal expenses. That too is their right. But they must now address greater challenges and opportunities for India because of the stability that has arisen because of the judgements. We have already undertaken a series of reforms.What is your outlook for the year ahead?I see keenness for 5G among telcos. We are keen to promote the 5G ecosystem in India. Both in terms of stacks and also services.When will you notify the 5G trials? Will 5G auctions be held this year?We will come up with the roadmap for 5G trials and auctions very soon. What I want to share with you is that Made in India 5G ecosystem must come and we are in touch with big corporate houses. They have promised us that very soon, they will come with it.On Thursday, you met with Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran. Did this also come up for discussion?No comments. But let me say that this year will be a very fruitful year for the 5G ecosystem. Indian corporate houses have shown great interest and they are accelerating their innovation and there will be more than one Indian company.Will Huawei and ZTE be barred from 5G trials?There are proper norms of trusted sources of telecom equipment being finalised and GFR (General Finance Rules) regarding adjoining countries is already out. That will be followed.By when will the list of trusted sources of telecom equipment be out?MHA (ministry of home affairs) will come out with guidelines by sometime later this year.What has been the level of investment so far in the PLI scheme for smartphones?A total of 10 applicants have produced output worth Rs 35,000 crore already. They have given employment to 22,000 during Covid-19 and invested Rs 1,300 crore already. So, if we can achieve all this during such a pandemic, you can imagine which direction this scheme is going in.Will the government allow some relaxation in the PLI targets for the first year?That will have to be looked at.Who all have evinced interest so far in the PLI scheme for telecom equipment manufacturing?India already has manufacturers like Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Jabil and Sanmina. These players have evinced interest…we expect more players to apply. We are importing equipment worth Rs 50,000 crore and export is just Rs 7,000 crore. I am very keen that India become a complete ecosystem for electronics manufacturing: mobiles, accessories, PCBs, telecom equipment, laptops, tablets, iPads, servers, semiconductors and medical equipment, followed by strategic electronics.There has been an uproar over the new IT intermediary guidelines…The simple focus of the guidelines is that use of social media is okay, the only issue is abuse and misuse of social media which needs to be stopped. If people are suffering because of misuse, should they not have a forum for redressal? We are only asking them to have a good, robust grievance mechanism. The government is not interested in interfering. They are welcome to do business in India and earn profits from India which they are doing with 130 crore-plus users. Please note, the government welcomes criticism, including that of the PM and all the ministers. It welcomes dissent. But MeitY (ministry of electronics and IT) is full of complaints of morphed pictures of women on social media, social media being abused by terrorists. But we want least intervention by the government, through a soft-touch oversight mechanism. Intermediaries need to develop the mechanism, that is all.Have they sought an extension to implement the guidelines since companies like WhatsApp claim it requires them to change the architecture of their service and break end-to-end encryption?Extension has not been sought yet; they have three months to comply. Significant social media intermediary with 50 lakh-plus users will need to do this. The traceability requirement is also very limited — only in cases of safeguarding India’s security, safety and public order. Only offences serious in nature, such as rape, sexual depiction, child pornography, offences liable to be convicted for 5 years or more require traceability. Only if such a case arises, only then after a court order, will the government ask the intermediaries for the origin of the message. The traceability requirement is also very limited… I don’t want to decrypt or have content. I already have it (which has led to the criminal activity). They have to find the mechanism. Onus is now on them. Rules are out, everyone will have to follow.Stakeholders have questioned whether digital news could be regulated under the IT Act and that no stakeholder consultation was done before coming out with the rules. Your views?Digital news is not in the domain of MeitY and this question has already been answered in the press briefing after the announcement of the new rules.