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India should move away from oligopolistic market for spectrum: Amcham comments on DoT consultation paper

The American industry body in India made recommendations on a consultation held before the draft telecom bill 2022 was released

telecom towers ground up view

“Instead of auctioning spectrum at an oligopolistic market, the DoT [Department of Telecommunications] should consider increasing access for the benefit of the public,” said the American Chamber of Commerce in India (Amcham) in response to a consultation paper uploaded by the DoT on July 23, 2022.

The US trade body wrote its comments in response to the paper published just before the new Telecom Bill 2022. Entrackr first obtained a copy of this document via an RTI that said Amcham advised the DoT against “concentrating power in the hands of a few.”

It asked the Indian government to consider the role of license-exempt technologies, like WiFi, when defining its mobile strategy. Stressing the need to consider consumers and businesses requirements, it said: “While making the sufficient amount of spectrum available for mobile use (5G/6G) is important, the characteristics and requirements of local connectivity and other emerging use cases need to be considered as well.”

Amcham’s members include executives from American tech businesses like Google, Apple, Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, IBM, HP, Qualcomm, and Cisco.

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Amcham on Spectrum management

Consider new tech like IoT: Noting that the DoT proceeds with auctions (4G, 5G) and administrative allocations (e-bands), Amcham said such measures leaves out spectrum requirements of other players in the industry, focusing only on telecom licensees/ telecom service providers. It said that new technological developments like the Internet of Things (IoT), short range devices, Wi-Fi, etc. must also be considered to ultimately benefit citizens.

Create spectrum sharing opportunities: Amcham suggested that authorities can arrange to relocate or repurpose some spectrum bands to create “spectrum sharing opportunities.” This will eventually enable stakeholders and policymakers to understand spectrum efficiency and make spectrum allocation effective.

“Delay in allocating spectrum for non-carrier related spectrum needs tends to hamper the progress of the Indian electronics industry in terms of testing, bringing new products and meeting the market needs of both domestic and exports as well as depriving Indian consumers of the best wireless technology innovations,” said Amcham.

It also said that non-telecom players like original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should be able to offer “wireless features” to users.

Empower TRAI: Rather than the Telecom Regulation Authority of India (TRAI) and DoT coordinating to undertake consultations, Amcham suggested that TRAI take spectrum consultations on a suo-moto basis for areas that outside spectrum.

Recommendations for penalties

Dot undertake a whole-of-government exercise to identify all laws and policies/ guidelines/ instructions applicable to the telecom sector to introduce proportionality based penalty schemes involving fines and liquidate damages. This penalty would be differential fine based on the gravity of the violation. Harsh penalties such as cancellation of licenses/ registrations, may be exercised as a last resort for instances of non-compliance.

GoI could take stick-and-carrot approach: Amcham said the DoT consider rewarding OEMs and other stakeholders for adhering to the guidelines. Further it suggested the DoT “improve the overall compliance environment in the industry by encouraging non-compliant organisations to move to the compliance regime voluntarily.” It said this will lead to a trust-based relationship between the enforcer and compliant organisations. Amcham warned that industries with heavy capital requirements tend to veer towards countries with simplified compliance regimes.

Standards, Public Safety and National Security

Continue to adopt global standards: According to Amcham, adopting global standards will help Indian manufacturers to bring Indian products and solutions to the global market.

“DoT is recommended to encourage Indian R&D institutes, universities and start-ups to contribute to international standards viz 3GPP, IEEE, etc. and not develop a new standard that would have limited acceptability in the global space,” Amcham said.

Rather than tweaking any standards, it advised that the DoT explore “unique Indian requirements and solutions” within the global standards framework. It asked the Indian government to explore a system like the MRA-ILAC, where approvals from conformity assessment bodies globally can be recognized in India. This will ease the process and provide a single uniform standard for assessment.

Treatment of consumer electronic products: Pointing out that consumer electronic products have unique requirements, shelf life, supply chain logistics, etc. Amcham argued that such items need special treatment whenever telecom Acts and rules are framed and updated. Smart ACs, Smart fridges, even smart phones cannot be expected to be subject to the same telecom rules and testing as the core telecom equipment, it said.

Narrow down telegraph definition: The definition of “telegraph” under the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 brings ICT equipment and various consumer electronic products within the ambit of telecom and telecom equipment related regulations. Amcham suggested that DoT consult relevant stakeholders and narrow down the scope and application of the relevant telecom equipment related to regulations in a way that is specifically tailored towards regulating only core telecom products.

Measures to foster Ease of Doing Business (EoDB): Amcham suggested that the new framework should have enough measures to ensure flexibility to learn and implement from the good practices from other regulatory regimes and business friendly measures of other government bodies. It also suggested preventing sharing of sensitive business information  with regulators for certification purposes. Other suggestions for EoDB are:

  • A ‘Deemed Approval’ system: providing the relevant authority a specified time to scrutinise and clear the application after which, the same is deemed approved.
  • Allowing submission of international lab reports under a convergence process of testing and certification of devices
  • A single agency/ window testing and certifications to avoid duplicity and reduce timelines
  • Establishing a ‘Regulations Review Authority’ after every five years to review and streamline various regulatory ad compliance procedures.

USISPF comments on UCS and satellite communications

The document also included comments from the US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF). Particularly, it looked at the challenges faced in offering Unified Communications Services (UCS) in India such as: integrating IP and PSTN networks, staggered telecom circle approach, single parenting for UL (VNO) licenses, duplication of security compliances.

To address these issues, USISPF suggested that the DoT:

Implement a framework to converge communication technologies: This will allow for the convergence of IP and PSTN traffic in the VNO network and give flexibility to the UL (VNO) licensees and their services.

Provide national level authorisation to UL (VNO) access: This will allow UCS to be delivered anywhere in India at lower costs. this will include centralising and simplifying operational components like centralising conformance testing, and single bank guarantee for the national license.

Allow multi-parenting: This will provide a higher quality of service and greater competition in the wholesale access market.

Create new legal framework for the satellite sector: The USISPF suggested that the DoT formulate a specific legal framework for clear guidance in this “technologically evolving sector.” It welcomed the New Space Policy 2022 and requested the government to promote a “level-playing field” for private players.

This story was updated at 5:35 PM on November 9, 2022 with due credits to Entrackr that filed the RTI for these comments.

This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.

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I'm interested in the shaping and strengthening of rights in the digital space. I cover cybersecurity, platform regulation, gig worker economy. In my free time, I'm either binge-watching an anime or off on a hike.

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