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TRAI Assures Telcos

TRAI Chairman R S Sharma has assured the service providers, in a meeting yesterday, that early 2019 it shall initiate an in-depth consultation on general principles related to spectrum including its valuation methodology. And the upcoming deliberations will not have any bearing on the past recommendations of TRAI on the auction of radiowaves.

“We have received suggestions on spectrum-related issues, policy relating to spectrum auctions, reserve price valuation methodology, spectrum leasing, surrendering, trading…all these things will be deliberated upon. We will bring a consultation paper which will have all spectrum-related issues,” Sharma said to the press subsequently.

Other issues that will be taken up by the regulator next year include fiberisation, redesigning of Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) and designing of broadband readiness index for states — a concept enshrined in the National Digital Communications Policy. The regulator will also look at developing a framework for quality of services benchmark for Internet of Things.

The meeting was attended by Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, BSNL and MTNL.

“The deliberations assume significance because now we have a new digital communications policy in place. So there are a lot of statements in the policy, which will require deliberations. We wanted to consult with the telecom service providers to figure out their view point on priority areas,” Sharma said.

The industry — which is not generating enough cash to even service loans — also flagged issues around high levies and GST refunds during the meeting. The telecom sector has been battered by falling tariffs, eroding profitability, and mounting debt in the face of stiff competition.

The industry has sought urgent relief measures for the troubled telecom sector, entailing debt restructuring, cut in levies like licence fee and spectrum charges, and release of GST input tax credit locked up with the government. –

Under the National Digital Communications Policy 2018, approved by the Cabinet in September, the department of digital communications has stated its intention to implement a “fibre-first initiative” to take fibre to homes, enterprises and key development institutions, and accord the status of public utility to telecom optic fibre cables .

This would be done by promoting collaboration models involving state, local bodies and the private sector for provision of shared duct infrastructure in municipalities, rural areas and national highways.

The government is also looking to establish a National Digital Grid by establishing common service ducts and utility corridors in all new city and highway road projects and related elements, and creating a collaborative institutional mechanism between the Centre, states and local bodies for common rights of way, standardisation of costs and timelines, and removal of barriers to approvals, the policy said.

Cannot disconnect services with sufficient pre-paid balance. TRAI has also directed operators not to immediately disconnect services of customers with “sufficient” pre-paid balance as it took strong note of telcos asking such users to go in for mandatory monthly recharge plan. The telecom regulator came down heavily on the operators after it received complaints from subscribers that they are being sent text messages to “mandatorily” recharge their prepaid accounts in order to continue to avail services.

These subscribers rued that the messages are being sent despite their pre-paid accounts having “sufficient balance”.

“Tariff and plans are under forbearance and we don’t generally intervene. But if there is sufficient money in the account and despite that people are being told that the services will be disconnected, it is not correct,” TRAI Chairman RS Sharma told reporters here.

The directive in this regard has gone out to operators on Tuesday, he added.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI ) met operators earlier this week and is currently examining the issue in its entirety. In the meantime, it has asked operators to “duly inform subscribers in a clear and transparent manner the date on which the current validity of existing plan would expire and the manner in which the subscriber can opt for the available plans including minimum recharge plan using subscriber’s available pre-paid account balance or otherwise”. It also asked operators to provide all this information to subscribers through SMS immediately and “not later than 72 hours”.

-Communications Today Bureau

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