How broadband recommendations from TRAI improve telecom biz?

Telecom Regulatory Authority Authority of India or TRAI on Friday submitted its recommendations on improving broadband in the country.

TRAI recommendations will have some impact on the telecom industry. But lack of focus on fixed broadband and extensive coverage across the country will hamper the growth of broadband in India.

Telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Vodafone, Reliance Communications, Aircel, BSNL, MTNL, Tata Docomo, MTS, Uninor and Videocon Telecom are playing a larger role in offering mobile Internet to Indian users. However, the growth of fixed broadband is a concern for telecom stakeholders including IT and communication minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

In the recent past, telecoms such as Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications and Vodafone started focusing more on 3G network. 4G LTE is yet to take off in a big way in India. Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Jio is planning to launch its 4G LTE network in 2-3 months. But it will not be a pan-India debut for Reliance Jio.

In this context, TRAI recommendations assume large significance.

Taking on the DoT (Department of Telecommunications) formula to generate funds for the BJP led NDA government, TRAI says spectrum licensing should be considered as a lever to drive broadband penetration and reinvestment in the telecom industry rather than a convenient source of income for the Government. In the March 2015 spectrum auction, the India government mobilized around Rs 100,000 lakh crore.

TRAI suggests that the government should align spectrum bands with globally harmonized bands to achieve interference-free coexistence and economies of scale. TRAI has recommended more spectrum in the existing spectrum bands such as 900, 1800, 2100, 2300 and 2500 MHz bands for commercial operation. This will encourage growth in wireless broadband in cities and large towns. But rural areas will be neglected since telecoms are not ready to invest in rural India.

The recommendation says 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.

WPC should be converted  into an independent body  by delinking it from the present DoT hierarchy and   either converting it into a statutory body responsible to Parliament or transferring it to an existing statutory body.

TRAI wants WPC to urgently decide the short-term and long-term plan for all spectrum through public  consultations to  ensure  transparent procedures  for  allocating spectrum bands.

The recommendation re-iterates that there is a transparency issue in allocating spectrum.

Rural broadband

“Even  in  a  more  limited role  of  assigning  solely  commercially available  spectrum, there  is a strong case for an institutional overhaul  of WPC to realize goals of institutional efficiency, transparency in decision-making and full disclosure of decisions,” said TRAI.

“It is  very  important  that   spectrum  is reasonably priced and made available  in significant quantities so that  a  balance can  be maintained in the   payments to the Government  for spectrum and the investment required for network expansion  and equipment,” TRAI added.

TRAI also wants the India telecom ministry to undertake an audit  of allocated spectrum — commercial as well as PSUs / Government organizations — within 3 months.

The telecom regulator has also urged the government to review refarming. “There   is  a  need   to   review   the   present   usage  of spectrum available  with  Government agencies  to  identify the  possible areas where  spectrum can be refarmed, and to draw up  a suitable  schedule,” TRAI said

TRAI wants the telecom minister to take a final decision on spectrum trading. TRAI submitted its final suggestions on spectrum trading on 28 January 2014.

TRAI says single-window clearance  is an imperative for  all  RoW proposals at  the  level  of  the  States  and  in  the  Central Government. “Single-window clearance  should  be administered online with  a defined  turnaround time. The reasons  for  denial of RoW permission should be recorded  in writing,” said TRAI.

TRAI suggests that strong   administrative  and  legal  provisions   (even  contractual) need  to be put  in place  for payment of compensation in case of cable cut  or cable damage  by any  agency  including Government agencies, private  agencies   or private  third   party    agencies executing the digging work.

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

TRAI recommends changes in the structure of NOFN. It says the  multi-layered structure for  decision- making  is  just   not suitable   for   a  project   that   needs  to   be executed  in mission  mode.  Quarterly timelines should be prescribed  for each milestone to  ensure  timely corrective measures. It wants BBNL to be professionally managed.

“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 utilize this  network.

TRAI says there should be single-window, time-bound  clearance   for installation of   towers   to   ensure   the   rapid   development   of national networks. A  nominal  one-time  administrative  fee  covering   the   cost   of administration of the clearance/permit should be levied. Electricity may be provided  to BTS sites on priority.

To promote fixed  line  broadband, the  license  fee on the  revenues  earned on fixed line  broadband should be exempted for at least 5 years. There  is a need to mandate city  developers  and builders  to have properly  demarcated sections  within buildings and  on  rooftops for housing  BB infrastructure and antenna. These areas should have uninterrupted  power  supply for  reliable, always-on services.

TRAI says cable operators  should be allowed  to function as resellers  of ISP license holders to enable them to take advantage of their cable network to provide  BB.

USOF Funds  need  to  be better targeted towards  adoption of broadband in  underserved  and  unserved   areas.  Subsidy  under USOF BB Plans  for  rural   areas  and  rural   homes  should  be  extended to private TSPs.

It’s action time for broadband stakeholders to revive the telecom industry.

Baburajan K
[email protected]