Telecom operators have opposed public Wi-Fi model recommended by the sector regulator TRAI, saying it will adversely impact debt ridden industry and compromise national security. Based on existing rules for cyber cafes, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had recommended that a new set of players to be called Pubic Data Office Aggregator (PDOA) should be allowed to resell internet services through yesteryears PCOs type of set-up that will be called Public Data Offices.
The regulator had recommended that like cyber cafes, which provide internet access to public after registering themselves, PDOA should be allowed to provision internet access services after registering themselves with the telecom department. “…the proposal to sell internet services without a licence, will be a complete bypass of present licensing framework, detrimental to massive investments already made in spectrum, telecom infrastructure… Additionally, we believe it will seriously compromise national security,” COAI Director General Rajan S Mathews said in a letter to telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan.
The Cellular Operators Association of India, whose members include Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone, Idea Cellular etc, has been opposing implementation of TRAI’s suggestions for public wifi services since April 12, 2017. The industry body in the latest letter dated July 5, 2018 expressed disappointment on TRAI’s recommendation and said that its implementation will lead to a non-level playing field between telecom operators who hold licence and those who will provide internet service without licence. COAI said that internet services can be provided by a telecom licence holders only and the scope of PDOA recommended by TRAI is similar to that of internet service provider license holder.
“Creation of last mile access, wireline or wireless, for the end customer to provide internet services has been permitted under the license. However, the same activity has now been proposed to be performed by the PDOAs,” Mathews said. He said licence is required even if the internet services are provided to the end customers using de-licensed spectrum band, however, no such condition has been imposed on unlicensed entities, who will make use of de-licenced bands of commercial purposes. COAI has alleged that provision for PDOA, if implemented, will cause huge loss to government’s revenue.
“This would also lead to substantial loss to the exchequer as the PDOAs and PDOs would not pay any licence fee or spectrum usage charge (SUC), or for that matter upfront payment for spectrum, to the government. Going down this path, it would only be fair and legally tenable if the government also exempts license fee and SUC for licensed operators,” Mathews said. COAI said if the government feels that PDOAs should be allowed for rural areas and villages then it should be mandated through a license.
“Further, such incentive should not be limited only to PDOAs but should also be extended to all service providers… who provide internet services (both wired or wireless) in the rural areas rather than promoting a particular business model,” the director general said. He added that revenue earned from the provision of internet service in rural areas for all service providers should be exempted from regulatory levies.