We missed this last month: Telecom operators in India can now temporarily access land for laying down fiber cables and installing mobile towers under the newly notified “Indian Telegraph Right of Way Rules 2016” (pdf). The rules were initially drafted in November last year and came into enforcement on April 26th, 2017(pdf). Under the new rules, telcos will need to submit an application with details about land required for laying fiber cables or details of structures or building in case of installation of mobile towers.

As per the earlier gazette notification in November last year, the state government will set up a nodal officer who reviews application submitted by telcos. The officer must respond by either granting access to land/building or reject it within 60 days. If the state authority does not respond within 60 days, the application shall be deemed accepted, the notification said. The RoW rules also make it mandatory for state/central/local government departments to adopt electronic/online application system within a period of 1 year of the laws coming into force.

A lowdown of additional mandatory conditions to be followed by telcos and the state/central authority under the RoW rules:

Application Conditions

A telecom company applying for Right of Way grant should mandatorily take responsibility of rebuilding or restoring any damaged public/private property while carrying out their work. Once the Right of Way is granted, the telco should deposit a pre-determined amount as bank guarantee to the local/state authority within 30 days and pay ‘administrative fees’ of not more than Rs 1000 per kilometre.

 The local/state authority is allowed to inspect the area under construction and impose additional conditions. If the telco is found violating any rules, the authority can penalize telcos by deducting money from the bank guarantee or even revoking the Right of Way grant.

Apart from this telcos should also specify:
– The area of land required for laying down fiber cables.
– Land coordinates and details of the building/ being used and overall time needed to complete the work.
– Time of day the work needs to be carried out,
– Estimated expenses incurred by the central/state government, local authorities like municipal corporations due to construction.
– Details of inconvenience that can be caused to the public due to the works, and precise measures proposed by telco to resolve inconveniences from time-to-time.
– Measures taken by the telco to ensure public safety while the work is taking place.

Telcos have lobbied for RoW grant in the past

Several telcos and industry association have lobbied for Right of Way in the past. Airtel had asked for Right of Way grants for installing WiFi hotspots in its submission to a TRAI consultation paper on WiFi. Lobbying groups like COAI, AUSPI, among others had asked for a uniform Right of Way framework especially for telecom towers, according to this TeleAnalysis report.