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COAI writes to DoT alleging providing backdoor entry to big tech players for CNPN

The Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), which represents telcos, including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, wrote to the government on Thursday, urging a re-look into the concept of Captive Non-Public Networks (CNPN) and ensure licensing and regulatory level-playing field between telecom operators and enterprises/ tech companies.

This is with reference to the Guidelines issued by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on June 27 to allow CNPN reiterating direct allocation of spectrum for such networks.

“Our members are disappointed and disheartened by this development on eve of 5G auction, which is apparently based on some international practices that are not relevant in Indian context, and probably without any in-depth study being conducted by DoT or Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) of its adverse impact on the economy and for orderly growth of the telecom sector,” said SP Kochhar, Director General, COAI, in the letter to the DoT Secretary, K Rajaraman.

COAI said any consideration of administrative allocation of spectrum for such networks is fundamentally against principles of level-playing field, and effectively provides a ‘backdoor entry to big technology players’ to provide 5G services and solutions to enterprises in India without equivalent regulatory compliance and payment of levies that TSPs are subjected to.

“The guidelines, allows technology companies to de-facto become service providers and compete with TSPs in enterprise connectivity space,” said the letter.

The letter further noted that “it is amply evident from the websites of various companies claiming to be capable of setting-up and managing such networks for providing 5G services over the cloud to enterprises, effectively competing directly with telecom operators in the enterprise connectivity space”.

Therefore, the COAI requested for safeguarding interests of national security, and revenue to exchequer by taking a few steps such as private networks at different locations under one license by taking leased lines connectivity to connect multiple locations should not be permitted, cloud connectivity should be specifically barred, and ensure compliance to electro-magnetic field (EMF) norms.

It also urged for any non-compliance for connectivity should result in cancellation of license apart from heavy and deterrent financial penalty, ensuring compliance to subscriber verification norms and exempting revenues of telecom service provider (TSPs) from computation of adjusted gross revenue (AGR).

Meanwhile, the Broadband India Forum (BIF) on Wednesday had also written to DoT flagging concerns over several aspects of newly-framed guidelines for captive private networks, including “high” networth criteria, and uncertainty on pricing of spectrum allocated.

Both COAI and BIF are on loggerheads from the day Cabinet approved the auctions of 5G spectrum, including paving the way big tech companies to set up their CNPNs.

CT Bureau

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