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Could Indian operators be fined for slow network rollouts

The three leading Indian operators may be looking at even more fines – this time for missing rollout targets, though at least some of the blame for this is being assigned to the recent lockdown.

The amounts involved are difficult to calculate precisely, but Indian press reports suggest that Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio Infocomm and Vodafone Idea could face penalties of about $6.6 million per violation for failing to meet their minimum network rollout obligations.

However, the problems, much reported in these pages in recent weeks, of moving people and hardware at a time of nationwide lockdown have, according to the operators, slowed rollout. The three operators said network equipment imports have been severely hit by global lockdowns imposed after the coronavirus outbreak – and not just in India but at ports around the world. There have also been difficulties in completing tower site acquisitions and drive tests and in securing approvals from state authorities and municipal bodies.

The three operators have asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for a six-to-nine-month extension to complete their rollout targets. The final compliance date at the moment is 31 May.

Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), has backed the operators in a letter to the DoT. Assuming the effect of the coronavirus on rollout has not been exaggerated, it would a surprise if the government did not to take this into account, although there appears to have been no response yet.

—Developing Telecoms

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