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.
“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.