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Telcos urge TRAI to take a relook at fees levied on usage of street furniture

Telecom operators — including Reliance Jio and Airtel — have urged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to reduce application fees levied on using street furniture to deploy small cells for telecommunication services.

While Vodafone Idea and Airtel want the ₹1,000 per street furniture fee to be removed entirely or at least significantly reduced, Reliance Jio said, “Street furniture rental should be made onetime till license period. Being an essential service, no recurring fee of any kind should be charged by the appropriate authority.”

Dense network needed
As India takes the first steps to usher in the 5G revolution, telecommunications networks will need to become denser and more prolific in order to carry the wide myriad of services promised by 5G, especially as 5G operates in higher frequency bands that do not have long-distance coverage, and promises a range of solutions such as smart cities and the internet of things, which require denser networks.

To support this dense network, industry stakeholders are considering the utilisation of street furniture such as poles, street lights, etc.

Application fee
According to the Indian Telegraph Right of Way (Amendment) Rules, 2021, “In case of establishment of poles (not mobile towers) for the deployment of small cells, the application fee should not exceed ₹1,000 per application.”

Bharti Airtel, in its letter to the TRAI, called for further rationalisation of this application fee. Meanwhile, Vodafone Idea states that no application fee should be levied at all.

“We would like to submit that no application fee or compensation be levied for using street furniture or for installing the poles, especially for providing support to over-ground telecommunications lines. This must include additional poles between the existing poles established by any person or entity over the immovable property of the local/government authority for installing small cells, and OFC (optical fibre cable) required to connect small cells,” it said.

“One of the biggest bottlenecks related to RoW is high charges which, most of the time, are unreasonable and not related to the work done principle,” Vodafone Idea added.

Sharing of street furniture
Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel clashed with Jio, however, on whether street furniture to set up telecommunication networks should be shared between operators or not. Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel maintain that if the street furniture has enough strength and space, it can be shared between operators for efficient usage of infrastructure.

Jio disagreed. It said, “While the controlling authorities for street furniture should be mandated to share street furniture with TSPs/IPs, there should be no mandatory obligations on TSPs/IPs to share the street furniture. In place of mandates, incentive model should be deployed. Further, provisions should be made so that allotment of street furniture should not lead to monopolisation and stifling of competition.” The Hindu BusinessLine

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