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DoT cautions e-commerce cos to abide by rules

The telecom department has warned e-commerce companies over illegal facilitation and sale of unauthorised mobile signal boosters and repeaters on online platforms, and has asked them to adhere to the rules.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) had rapped e-commerce businesses on the issue, on several occasions, and had also made it clear that these companies cannot shrug off their responsibilities merely by claiming that their role was limited to that of a facilitator of the marketplace.

DoT, in its notification in May 2019, had said “e-commerce websites are equally responsible for facilitating such illegal transactions and must ensure that the sellers and buyers engaging in such transactions are in possession of the necessary licences and approval as mandated by the Department”.

It is pertinent to mention here that the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) has been flagging the rampant sale of mobile signal boosters and repeaters on e-commerce sites, despite restrictions.

On Friday, the industry body had urged DoT to take strict measures to ensure complete ban on sale of illegal repeaters and boosters, offline or online via e-commerce websites, as it sought the government’s urgent intervention to “curb this menace”.

COAI in its latest letter to DoT has said that though some e-commerce companies have terminated sale of such equipment from their website/ platform after the association’s detailed assertions on the issue, others continue to sell them.

Notably, the Wireless Planning and Co-ordination (WPC) Wing under DoT has earlier too issued explicit communication on the issue – in May 2016, April 2017 and and May 2019. In each of these instances, it had come down heavily on online sale and purchase of wireless equipment through e-commerce platforms and asked companies to comply.

It has repeatedly asserted that where there is licensing or statutory requirements on telecom equipment being sold or purchased, it will be the responsibility of those selling or purchasing it, as well as of the online intermediaries facilitating such sale and purchase to ensure that the relevant statutes of the government are not violated.

In its notification in May 2019, WPC had mentioned that the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act and Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act strictly forbids the possession, establishing, maintaining or working of unauthorised telegraph.

“In addition to the above the WPC Wing, vide its order dated May 15, 2015 had informed the e-commerce sites that as per the Indian Wireless Telegraphy (Possession) Rules 1965, no person or dealer shall sell or hire a wireless set/equipment to any person, unless such person/dealers hold a valid dealers possession licence (DPL).

“The DPL holder can also sell wireless set/equipment only to such persons/entity that hold an authorisation issued by this Ministry to establish a wireless telegraph under the Indian Telegraph Act 1885,” it had said.

Brushing off arguments that role of e-commerce websites is that of an intermediary only, it had reminded that clarification was issued previously too making it unequivocally clear that e-commerce portals are operating as “online marketplace” and hence covered under IT Act as intermediaries.

It is the responsibility of the intermediaries to follow certain due diligence guidelines as stated in the norms. Citing the DPL requirement by the seller and the licence and permit requirements for the purchaser, WPC had said that online intermediaries need to ensure that these statutory requirements are fulfilled.

Drawing attention to provision of existing acts, subordinate rules and, orders and relevant facts, WPC had at that time asked companies to take immediate corrective measures to remove the display and the sale of unauthorized boosters from respective websites and ensure compliance with the stated rules.

The telecom industry has been voicing concerns over how illegal repeaters have “become a major nuisance” and “one of the biggest cause” for customers facing mobile network issues like call drops and low data speeds.

Boosters or repeaters, as they are commonly called, are being increasingly installed over the last few years. The equipment works by drawing in available mobile tower signals in low connectivity areas and amplifying and distributing it in small, concentrated locations, such as a building or a cluster of buildings.

In the past, boosters have been used by the operators in areas where mobile towers cannot be installed easily.

The telecom service providers make sure that installing a repeater doesn’t hamper the network coverage for people outside the distribution area and does not interfere with other operators’ allotted spectrum frequency, COAI said in its recent letter to DoT.

Highlighting the industry’s painpoint, COAI had said that grey market outlets and online e-commerce stores are making illegal low cost repeaters available for anyone to buy and install illegally. These repeaters are installed by unauthorised agencies at homes, offices, hostels and guest houses to boost mobile signal strengths.

The industry rues that such wide band devices draw in network signals to provide connectivity to a particular building or area in an unregulated manner, thereby depleting the network strength in other surrounding areas and results in call drops and depleted network quality. PTI

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