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Ensure Equitable Work, No Monopoly Under Access Coverage Scheme: COAI

Industry body Cellular Operators’ Association of India has pushed for an “equitable” distribution of work and subsidy for all four access services providers in covering unconnected villages and asserted that the programme “should not create any monopoly”.

Telecommunications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during his interaction with chief executive officers of telecom companies last month had asked the industry to prioritise connecting 43,000 villages that are without mobile services, by pooling in resources to cover these locations within one year.

In a letter addressed to the new Telecom Secretary, COAI has pledged industry’s full support in collaborating with the government to take forward the initiative of accelerating mobile connectivity in villages.

The association highlighted that the scheme should be for compensation of cost and should not become a “profiteering scheme”. “Distribution of work and subsidy should be equitable for all the four access providers…It should not create any monopoly.”

The association has submitted a joint proposal to the government on uncovered villages programme, making specific suggestions on how the scheme should be designed, its principles, methodology and various other aspects.

In the letter dated Aug. 16, COAI said there should be no duplication of infrastructure and only one telecom player should build tower infrastructure (passive infrastructure) which should be shared by all operators.

“Infrastructure sharing among telecom service providers should be mandatory and integral part of the scheme,” COAI said. About 60 percent of the subsidy should be given upfront and the balance 40 percent on a quarterly basis, it said.

It has also suggested that the lowest bidder should become the lead bidder and should be awarded both passive and active work, and the second-lowest bidder should become the second operator and be subsidised only for active equipment.

“No operator should be awarded more than 35 percent of the bidding units/villages as a lead operator,” COAI said, adding that villages should be classified into three lots and pool of sites for bidding should be structured such that each pool has a fair mix of villages.

Quality of Service standards should be relaxed to take into consideration terrain, difficulty of access of operations, weather, as well as “force majeure” conditions—natural or unforeseeable catastrophes.

“All government buildings (both State and central), land and facilities to be made available for installation of cell towers and mobile infrastructure,” the COAI said. “Destruction of telecom infrastructure to be considered as a non-bailable criminal offence with deterrent punishment.”―Bloomberg Quint

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