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TRAI’s Ease of Doing Business guidelines address bureaucratic burdens in telecom

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

The TRAI has come up with recommendations for easing up doing business for telecom operators, following a consultation process. While we’ve highlighted the problems and the recommendations below, it’s quite evident that some of these issues should never have arisen, or had been fixed when the policy was defined. Two things: these recommendations are appropriate, and this is probably the most progressive TRAI we’ve had, at least in my 11 odd years of reporting on this industry. Secondly, DoT regulations and TRAI recommendations might need to be two-stage processes where perhaps the recommendations post the consultation should perhaps go for another round, with minor changes possible based on feedback. Like I said, some of the concerns addressed below seem to be trailing issues, which should have been dealt with in the first place.:

1. Problem: Some stakeholders have submitted that the TSPs are required to pay a processing fee of Rs. 1000/- per Standing Advisory Committee for Frequency Allocation (SACFA) application and this adds up when they’re deploying as many as 20,000 sites per month. Even though there’s a web portal, they still have to file hard-copy applications to WPC. WPC has 35 types of network licenses and 9 types of non-network licenses, all of which require hard-copies.

TRAI Recommendation: “the entire process of SAFCA clearance as well as grant of all licences/approvals, that are issued by WPC, should be made paper-less and executed end-to-end through an online portal. Upon successful implementation of online portal, DoT may also review the SACFA fee being levied upon the TSPs.”

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2. Problem: Importing equipment is painful: an import license is required from WPC for every import of wireless equipment. This takes 1-2 months, and the equipment is held up at customs. This delays network expansion. Since the license is for the local service area only, Telecom Operators need additional permissions for deploying in other local service areas, which is cumbersome.

TRAI Recommendation:
– A definite timeline, not more than 30 days for granting of import license.
– An online portal to accept application and generate acknowledgement only when all mandatory fields have been filled as per WPC’s check-list are uploaded by telecom operator
– Reinstalling equipment shouldn’t need additional permissions: just intimation to WPC through the portal should suffice.

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3 & 4. Problem: Companies that need to import products and solutions for demonstration purposes during exhibitions and consumer trials need to take a demonstration license from WPC, and make submissions to regional licensing offices of WPC. This can take 5-6 weeks. The process for experimental license for experiments and testing takes 6-9 months for a 3-month license, and extensions take a similar amount of time. R&D and product development take 1-2 years.

TRAI Recommendations: Demonstration Licence and Experimental Licence should be processed and the licence should be granted within a maximum period of 15 days and 30 days respectively. The validity period of the Experimental (radiating) Licence should initially be six months, extendable by another six months.

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5. Problems:
– Delay in Approval of Merger proposals: After approvals from High Court/National Company Law Tribunal, there should be a timeline for granting approval by DoT, maybe 30 days, or with a deemed approval if not granted within 30 days.
– Excess spectrum needs to be surrendered within a year of permissions being granted, but there’s no choice of reducing it via spectrum trading.
– If a transferor company holds a part of spectrum which has been assigned against entry fee paid, then the company acquiring has to pay the difference between the entry fee and market-determined price from data of approval of NCLT/Company Judge. Telcos want this to be changed to ‘date of approval from DoT’.

TRAI Recommendation:
a) Licensor (Government) should file objections, if any, against a merger, within 30 days. DoT should spell out a definite timeline, not exceeding 30 days post NCLT approval, for providing written approval to transfer/merger of licences by the Licensor and it should be made a part of DoT’s M&A Guidelines.
b) If the merger results in excess spectrum holding beyond permissible spectrum cap, the resultant entity should be given an option to either surrender or trade its spectrum holding, within the stipulated period of one year.
c)If a transferor company holds a part of spectrum, which (4.4 MHz/2.5 MHz) has been assigned against the entry fee paid, the transferee company/ resultant entity should be liable to pay the differential amount for the spectrum assigned against the entry fee paid by the transferor company from the date of written approval of transfer/merger of licences by DoT.

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6. Problem: DoT guidelines for spectrum trading have specified certain spectrum brands. Telcos don’t want DoT to hard-code spectrum band and block sizes.

TRAI Recommendation: The Authority recommends that spectrum trading should be permitted in all the access spectrum bands which have been put to auction. The permissible block size for trading in a band should be same as specified in the NIA for the latest auction held. Spectrum trading guidelines should be amended accordingly.

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7.Problem: TSPs have rollout obligations, and are supposed to offer the sites to the TERM Cells for testing. They’re supposed to pay a testing fee, and the TERM Cell tests 10% of the self-certified sites, but fees paid are for 100% of sites.

TRAI Recommendations: The Authority recommends that the TSPs should be charged for roll-out obligations test fee only for the DHQs/ BHQs/ SDCAs which are actually tested by TERM Cells. The Authority also recommends that there is a need to rationalize the structure of testing fee to avoid double payment for testing the same MSC.

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8.Problem: There’s no clarity on whether a UASL license holder wanting to migrate to UL has to fulfil the net worth requirement. DoT has allowed migration in case of negative net worth, on a case to case basis.
TRAI Recommendations: The Authority recommends that for an existing service provider, for renewal of licence or migration of its licence to UL, the condition of minimum net worth should not be applicable.

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9. Problem: DoT has processes for paper-based filing, for Mobile Tower and EMF compliance self-certification, despite there being an online portal, Tarang Sanchar, for this.
TRAI Recommendation: The Authority recommends that consequent to the implementation of the online portal Tarang Sanchar, DoT may review
(a) the need of revised certification by all the TSPs for every BTS upon upgrade by any TSP on a shared site and
(b) calling biennial certification for all the existing sites of every TSP. The Authority also recommends that TSPs should be asked to submit all requisite certifications only through Sanchar Tarang portal. TSPs should not be required to re submit these certificates/reports separately in any other forms such as in hard copy or through email.

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10. Problem: processes related to the return of bank guarantees are tedious and time-consuming. The performance bank guarantee should be immediately returned on fulfilment of roll-out obligations. The current UL doesn’t have a provision for release of performance bank guarantees upon completion of 5 stages of rollout.

TRAI Recommendations:
The Authority recommends that PBG for a particular phase of roll-out obligations should be released after successful certification by TERM Cell. If TERM Cell fails to submit its report within 12 months after the date of offer, PBG should not be held back on account of pendency of testing. Further, DoT 30 should review the process adopted by CCA for the refund of bank guarantee and should ensure that CCA does not take more than 30 days for the release of bank guarantee.

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11. Problem: OSPs are ” application services “like tele-banking, tele-medicine, tele-education, tele-trading, e-commerce, Call center, network operation centre and other IT enabled services”. A telecom operator/ISP is mandated to check whether an OSP is eligible to get the telecom resource, and is an OSP. There’s no website for that.
TRAI Recommendation: The Authority recommends that DoT should place an updated list of OSP registration holders with their validity of registration and place of OSP centre on its web-site.

12. Problem: As per the Universal License, the DoT may impose a financial penalty not exceeding the following:

Stakeholders say that in the absence of any guidelines, the fines imposed are typically the maximum, even if the violations are minor. There needs to be a suitable matrix that needs to be created, based on severity of the incident.
TRAI Recommendation: The Authority recommends that DoT should devise a suitable matrix, linking the penalty to the severity of the incident and recurrence of the violation for imposition of financial penalties.

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