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Digital Blackout Feared in Portions of the Bengaluru City

BBMP’s (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) decision and drive to cut off Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) of the telecom and internet service providers by treating all over-the-ground cables as unauthorized though the industry had obtained permissions & had  originally laid them underground but were constrained to lay them overhead with the tacit permission of BBMP as & when the same were are unintentionally cut/removed during various civil works carried out by BBMP, BESCOM, BWSSB etc, is leading to huge outages and inconvenience to the citizens in densely populated areas across the city. The cable disconnecting activity is a blow to the Digital Bengaluru plan, which will impact essential services including Point of sale purchase applications at retail outlets and government services in Bengaluru. It could result in a complete communication black-out situation. This action will not only jeopardise operations and industries at India’s Silicon Valley, but will have the maximum adverse impact on consumers and citizens.

BBMP must stop this retrograde and regressive fibre cutting drive immediately, as it is damaging operations of businesses and individual customers. At present, there is no comprehensive policy in Bengaluru which can ensure smooth provisioning of telecom infrastructure. Hence, Karnataka Government should formulate a comprehensive State tower policy that is aligned with Right of Way rules dated November 2016 issued by the Government of India to facilitate smooth deployment of telecom infrastructure across the city.

In order to streamline the issue, the telecom industry is ready to help and Municipal body to provide and discuss the best practices being followed in other states regarding RoW rules, 2016.

The Right of Way rules, 2016 issued by the central government for provisioning of the underground/over the ground telecom infrastructure has enabling features such as no restriction on location of telecom towers, single window clearance mechanism, defined time-period for approvals, appointment of Nodal officers, nominal administrative fees and deemed approval etc. extensively supporting the Digital India mission.

Speaking on the massive crisis that is brewing, which would bring the city to a virtual standstill, Rajan S Mathews, Director General, COAI stated, “Such fibre cutting activities will hurt businesses, citizens and Government services in the Silicon Valley of India immensely. In the consumers’ interest, industry is seeking an early appointment with the relevant authorities to discuss, deliberate and arrive at a mutually agreeable solution, as soon as possible, and seek stoppage of any form of coercive measures to force a solution.”

“The TSPs are keen and willing to fully co-operate with the concerned authorities and government departments/agencies to regularise the cable laying process. The industry is open to dialogue and resolution immediately,” he further added.

T.R. Dua, Director General, Tower & Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) commented, “Before taking any suo-moto coercive action, BBMP should have called industry for a bilateral discussion to resolve the subject matter of concerns. This impulsive action will impact the overall internet connectivity and businesses especially IT firms in Bangalore. In 2012, BBMP in an affidavit filed before the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka clearly stated not to cut or claim any rent till such time appropriate rules/bye-laws/regulations are made. Since then, there are no rules/ by-laws/ regulations notified by the BBMP. In order to streamline the issue, first step for the state of Karnataka is to align its draft policy with the Right of Way rules issued in November 2016 issued by the Department of Telecommunication to ensure deployment of critical telecom tower infrastructure with ease and lawfully. Once notified, the focus should come on implementation of the policy downline so that they are no such Suo-moto coercive actions are taken. The retrograde and arbitrary action destroys all the serious efforts that industry has been taking to turn the vision of Digital India, Smart City and cashless economy into a reality.”

Rajesh Chharia, President, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) also in support of the concerns added, “BBMP should come with an OH (Over Head) policy as major developmental work is going on in the City. All cities, Nationally and Internationally, have OH cables.”

The telecom industry has made immense investments in setting-up infrastructure in the Karnataka circle to provide fast connectivity to the citizens, as well as to the IT industry.  Over 1,30,200 Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) have been installed in Karnataka state to support telephone, mobile and internet communications. This alone equals INR 13,000 crores in network investments. The sector also generates approx. INR 6,000 crores per annum in revenue in Karnataka alone, from which it contributes over approx. INR 1,600 crores to the State exchequer by way of levies and taxes. Such coercive actions from BBMP are expected to bring the entire city to a virtual halt and cause immense setback to its robust digital economy, while bringing no benefit to the BBMP government. – CT Bureau

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