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COAI: TRAI’s public WiFi proposal hurts telcos’ interests, national security

The Cellular Operators Association of India objected to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s plan to enable shops and public places around the country to roll out their own WiFi services, similar to pay phones. The COAI — which represents the major wireless telecom providers in India — said that this “bypass” of licensing requirements (that have so far limited public WiFi hotspots mostly to established players) will hurt the telecom industry. He said this in a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office and to telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan, Livemint reported.

The plan COAI is referring to is what TRAI calls the Wireless Access Network Interface, a standardised WiFi authentication system based on Aadhaar authentication that the regulator hopes to roll out to small shops and public places. COAI also played the national security card in criticising the program.

“Violation of Telegraph Act”

Among other things, the COAI said that TRAI’s WiFi effort was a violation of the Telegraph Act, because it is unlicensed, and should be put to a stop. A DoT official anonymously quoted by Mint pointed out that registration of WiFi hotspots was standing in for a license, and there was, therefore, no violation of the Telegraph Act.

WiFi hotspots are currently highly regulated, and only established telcos — like COAI’s members — are usually able to legally roll out the required infrastructure, and authenticate users with SMS-based one-time passcodes. TRAI and the telecom department have moved to change this status quo with the WANI, and by rolling out hotspots of their own.

ReadGovt pushes for open architecture Wi-Fi, DoT to install 10,000 hotspots

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COAI DG criticises RS Sharma

Weeks after being gagged by the Bombay High Court against criticising Reliance Jio too harshly, COAI director general Rajan Mathews went after current TRAI chairman RS Sharma for being too consumer-centric. “Sharma was so focussed on customers that I believe he forgot Trai Act says you must look after customers as well as industry,” Mathews told PTI. Sharma’s term ends this month, and the government is looking for a replacement.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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