In the last two years, we have seen a lot of small telcos exiting the market or merging with large telcos. During the process, telcos such as Aircel, Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices made their subscribers suffer from their sudden exit plans. Taking such incidents to notice, the government has decided to make it mandatory for every telecom service provider to give at least 30 days advance notice to subscribers before shutting down the services. The development has come against the background of abrupt closure of services by some telecom operators recently which left their subscribers in lurch.
Trai Should Be Notified by the Telco 60 Days in Advance
The new rule is part of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s recommendations on ‘Closure of Access Services’ that were approved by the Telecom Commission at its meeting held on October 17, 2018. “This was from point of view of ease of doing business and also customers are not put to great difficulty. It was decided that the customers are given 30 days notice before a service shut down and the licensor and Trai should be notified 60 calendar days in advance. Earlier no time limit was there,” Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters at PTI.
Following approval of Trai’s recommendation, the subscriber would also not need to port his mobile number on the same network if a particular technology is closed down but will need to port out if entire services of telecom operator are shut down.
Entire Licence is Not Required to Be Surrendered
The commission for the convenience of the telecom operator approved that in case the company wants to close down services partially, it will not be required to surrender the entire licence. “Licensee can be permitted to discontinue the services without the need to surrender the licence. The UAS licence will be amended to that effect,” Sundararajan said.
The commission decided that in case a telecom operator wants to trade spectrum held by it for mobile services, the company will need to inform the Department of Telecom and Trai before 45 days of actual transaction date for partial sale and 60 days in advance for a complete sale of radio waves.
“The DoT will need to revert within 15 days in the first case and 21 days in the second case in order to further enhance ease of doing business,” Sundararajan said.
The commission also approved the reduction in spectrum usage charge (SUC) for internet service providers who use radio waves in high-frequency range to fill the gap in their network connectivity at the last mile access (subscriber’s end) and not for creating a ubiquitous mobile network across the entire telecom circle.
“In the case of ISP and VSAT licensee, no minimum presumptive AGR (part of entry fee paid by them) should be made applicable to them. SUC should be levied at 1 per cent so as to cover administrative charges and there should be no financial bank guarantee for ISP licences,” Sundararajan said.
Out of 262 ISP licence holders, only 15 ISPs have been assigned spectrum by DoT for a period of one or two years only. DoT will continue providing them spectrum on administrative basis 2.7 GHz, 3.3 GHz, 5.7 GHz and 10.5 GHz bands.
Telecom Commission Also Escalated Cost of Bharat Net Rollout
Besides this decision, the commission also approved the escalated cost of rolling out the broadband network by the state government under phase 2 of the Bharat NeT project. The commission approved Rs 405 crore capital expenditure, revised from Rs 375 crore, proposed by Odisha with 8% (of capex) separate administrative expense, 3% contingency and 6% operational expense for a period of three years.
Similarly, for Andhra Pradesh, it revised capex budget to Rs 998 crore from Rs 847 crore earlier, Jharkhand to Rs 490 crore from Rs 398 crore, Maharashtra to Rs 2,709 crore from Rs 1,871 crore and Gujarat to Rs 1,943 crore for BharatNet phase 2. The government has plans to connect all 2.5 lakh village panchayats by the optical fibre based broadband network by March 2019.