Regulators

TRAI sees role of local cable operators in helping broadband grow

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NEW DELHI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has called for an audit by an independent agency of all allocated spectrum, both commercial as well as spectrum allocated to various PSUs/Government organizations. Stressing the urgency, it has said this ought to be a national priority and must be undertaken within three months.

In its recommendations on “Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?” prepared after consultations with stakeholders, TRAI has noted that current availability of spectrum in local service areas (LSAs) is about 40 per cent of that available in comparable countries elsewhere. There is therefore ‘a crying need for assignment of additional spectrum for commercial telecom services.’ There is need to align spectrum bands with globally harmonized bands to achieve interference-free coexistence and economies of scale.

There is a need to lay down a clear roadmap for spectrum management, which should state the requirement and availability of spectrum for each LSA as well as for the whole country. This roadmap should be made available publicly to ensure transparency.

Wireless Planning Commission

In a far reaching recommendation, it has said that Wireless Planning Commission (WPC) should be converted into an independent body by de-linking it from the present Department of Telecom ‘hierarchy and either converting it into a statutory body responsible to Parliament or transferring it to an existing statutory body.’ 

‘Even in a more limited role of assigning solely commercially available spectrum, there is a strong case for an institutional overhaul of WPC to realise goals of institutional efficiency, transparency in decision-making and full disclosure of decisions,’ it says.

Right of Way

There is a need for enunciating a National Right of Way Policy to ensure uniformity in costs and processes. 

Role of Local Cable Operators (LCOs)

In another major recommendation, it said cable television operators should be allowed to function as resellers of Internet Service Provider (ISP) license holders to enable them to take advantage of their cable network to provide broadband. Implementation of digitisation of cable services to Phase II and III cities should be done in a time-bound manner.

Satellite Regulations

There is need to separate Licensor, Regulator and Operator functions in the satellite space domain to conform to best international practices of free markets. The issue of coordination of additional spectrum in the 2500-2690 MHz band with the Department of Space needs to be addressed urgently, so that this band can be optimally utilised for commercial as well as strategic purposes.

NOFN

The ‘multi-layered structure for decision making’ for national project NOFN for laying optic fibre is ‘just not suitable for a project that needs to be executed in mission-mode’ and the structure needs immediate overhaul.

There is need for Project implementation on Centre State Public-Private Partnership (CSPPP) mode by involving State Governments and the private sector. The award of EPC (turnkey) contracts by BBNL to private parties through international competitive bidding needs to be planned. Such contracts can be given region-wise with clear requirements for interconnection with other networks, as well as infrastructure sharing with other operators who would like to utilise this network. A commercial model around this will need to be suitably deployed.

Telecom Towers

Referring to towers, it said single-window, time-bound clearance should be encouraged for installation of towers to ensure the rapid development of national networks. Extensive consumer awareness and education programmes should be organised so that consumers fully understand the latest scientific information on EMF radiation and its potential impact on health.

Referring to Right of Way, it said single-window clearance is an imperative for all Right of Way proposals at the level of the States and in the Central Government. All such clearances have to be time-bound so that Telecom Service Providers and infrastructure providers can move rapidly to project execution. Ideally, single-window clearance should be administered online with a defined turnaround time. The reasons for denial of RoW permission should be recorded in writing.

To promote fixed line BB, the license fee on the revenues earned from fixed line broadband should be exempted for at least five years. The infrastructure of PSUs is lying unutilised and thus they should be mandated to unbundle their network and allow sharing of outside plant (OSP).

The Government needs to encourage local and foreign companies to build ‘Data Centre Parks’ on the lines of industrial parks, SEZs etc. by providing them land, infrastructure and uninterrupted power supply at affordable rates.

Both Central and State Governments will have to act as model users and anchor tenants through delivery of e-Government services including e-education, e-governance, m-health, m-banking and other such services. Schools are the ideal and convenient point for early initiation to broadband services. Government schools in the rural and remote areas can be provided subsidy from the USOF for broadband connectivity. The cost of CPE (desktop/laptop/tabs etc) is a major barrier to the adoption of broadband services. TSPs may be allowed to offer CPE bundled tariff schemes. Revenues from such offers ought to be exempted from the applicable license fee at least for a certain number of years (say for three years). 

In addition, there are a large number of recommendations of the Authority on which decisions of the Government are still awaited. The Government needs to act quickly on these recommendations as we have already lost too much time. These include, inter alia, on Spectrum Trading, Spectrum Sharing, Open Sky Policy, Infrastructure Sharing, Microwave Access and Backbone Spectrum.

The Authority had issued the Consultation Paper on “Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?” on 24 September last year to discuss issues contributing to broadband penetration in India and to solicit stakeholders’ views on action required to be taken both by the Government and the private sector to accelerate the proliferation and use of broadband in the country. The comments and counter-comments received from the stakeholders were placed on the TRAI’s website. An Open House Discussion was held on 30 October 2014 in New Delhi with the stakeholders. 

The Authority noted with serious concern the slow penetration and adoption of broadband in the country.  India ranks 125th in the world for fixed broadband penetration with only 1.2 per 100 inhabitants having access to fixed broadband; the global average is 9.4 per 100 inhabitants. In terms of household penetration within developing countries, India is ranked 75th with a penetration of 13 per cent. In the wireless broadband space too, India is ranked 113th with a penetration of 3.2 per 100 inhabitants. In terms of ‘ICT access, ICT use and ICT skills’, India ranks 129th out of total 166 countries. Indonesia (106), Sri Lanka (116), Sudan (122), Bhutan (123), Kenya (124) are ranked above India. India is categorised in the Least Connected Countries Group of 42 countries that fall within the low IDI group.

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