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COVID-19 Lockdown: India’s Diesel-Run Telecom Towers Could Run Dry

As the entire country goes into an unprecedented 21-day lockdown, telecom industry insiders warn that problems of access to diesel-powered telecom towers could pose a threat to the continuity of telecom services, which are hugely important in times of the lockdown.

This warning comes on the heels of a letter from the office of the Telecom Secy Anshu Prakash, aimed at all states and UTs, which had red-flagged similar concerns of local authorities looking to shut down network operation centres and not providing free access for maintenance works.

Industry insiders pointed out that orders and guidelines issued at the top, in many cases, are yet to reach those on the ground, leading to miscommunication and misunderstanding. The Industry clarified that the telecom services are supported by a vast number of telecom towers, a large percentage of which are diesel-powered. Insiders caution that lack of access to on-ground personnel to replenish diesel on-site and to carry out maintenance works could potentially hurt the smooth operation of telecom operations and services.

Industry officials pointed out that these problems of access were particularly acute in the states of Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

The problems faced include lack of clarity amidst local authorities enforcing the lockdown, on the exemption provided to telecom service providers from the lockdown. The confusion over the recognition of telecom and associated services as “essential” leads in many cases to non-issuance of curfew passes allowing travel and access.

Another issue that has been highlighted is that in many areas, helplines which are meant to provide support, have not been activated. As a result, the industry has made an appeal for the appointment of a nodal officer by each state, who would coordinate with and facilitate the movement of in-ground personnel.

The DOT, so far, has written two letters dated Mar 21 and Mar 24, appealing to states for increased cooperation, with the aim of ensuring continuity of telecom services – critical during the lockdown.

In a response to CNBC-TV18’s story, the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) has cautioned that telecom Infra companies need to ensure proper maintenance of the towers as it is essential for providing telecom services.

TR Dua, DG of said, “Regular maintenance is critical for telecom operations and for providing smooth telecom services. Manpower on-the-ground needs continued access to towers for supplying, replenishing diesel.”

On-ground staff need continued access to towers for maintenance of batteries, O&M on regular basis and they need to identify potential dangers to tower sites, he stressed.

“DOT has written to states to designate nodal officers to ensure hassle-free access for maintenance of telecom infra. We welcome the exceptions allowed to the industry by the DOT and state governments.

We look forward to working closely with the state governments during such panic situation,” he said.


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