Telecom Operators have urged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to fasten up the process of clearance for installation of new towers. The timeline, according to current standards takes up 90 days and the telcos have asked the department to cut short the timeframe to 30 days. The carriers have said that this would lead to faster development and would improve ease of doing business. The current regulations for installation of new towers dictate that telecom operators must get clearance from DoT’s wireless planning cell, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the office of the Joint Communications & Electronic Staff (JCES) in the defence ministry.
Representatives from these authorities sit in the Standing Advisory Committee on Radio Frequency Allocation (SACFA) for granting clearance on the height and location of any tower. The current situation remains a stifled one for the telcos since the SACFA has a backlog of pending approvals.
The industry body of telecom operators, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has voiced its concern regarding this matter and has said that the AAI and JCES office take up the most time in this process owing to many clearances which they have to grant. The association further noted that the DoT’S wireless planning cell officer “must take measures to clear all pending approvals, and also incorporate an escalation mechanism in case clearance timelines are not met.” The carriers have also suggested that the entire process should be made paperless to accelerate the approval methods. The carriers said that one step towards faster approvals could be “online submission of requisite documents with digital signatures.”
Director General of COAI, Rajan Matthews said: “It’s important to get faster SACFA approvals for quick network rollouts, given the rapid increase in countrywide mobile subscriber base, overall data usage and the arrival of advanced mobile technologies.”
Trai, the telecom regulatory body in India, had also called out for the fastening of the tower approval process in its recommendations outlined in National Telecom Policy of 2018 which it submitted to the department.
There is also the issue of seeking fresh approval from DoT every time an operator needs to relocate towers. The carriers have also urged the department to rethink the rules on this issue as well. The COAI said “With licensees having a pan-India presence… licensees should have the flexibility to freely move equipment.” He further added, “Telcos are now required to acquire import licences for all radio frequency gear procured from overseas, which becomes a problem for companies with a pan-India presence, who cannot import such gear in large quantities and deploy in different licensed areas.”