Indian telecom companies are against the decision of Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) to pave the way for Public Data Offices. These PDOs will resemble the old-fashioned PCOs, except they will cater to providing data to the public instead of calling facilities. However, in this development, the telecom operators are of the view that this move would further make a dent to the already financially hampered telecom industry and it would give rise to more security complications.
The Trai, on the other hand, has based the concept of these Public Data Offices on the existing rule for cybercafes, citing the reason that these cyber cafes are allowed to avail internet services to the users after registering with the required authority. Similarly, these PDOs will be able to function after they register with the DoT.
However, the telecom companies have not taken this proposal on a positive note. The telcos have shown disapproval with this new plan of PDOs citing security and financial reasons. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which comprises of all the big telecom companies like Reliance jio, Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and more has been vocal about this opposition. Director General of COAI, Rajan Matthews also wrote a letter to Telecom Secretary, Aruna Sundarajan in this regard in which he said “…the proposal to sell internet services without a licence, will be a complete bypass of the present licensing framework, detrimental to massive investments already made in spectrum, telecom infrastructure… Additionally, we believe it will seriously compromise national security” reports PTI.
The COAI has been opposing the views of Trai on the PDOs proposal since April this year saying that the data provision allowance should only be rewarded to license holders. The letter drafted by Rajan Matthews noted “Creation of last mile access, wireline or wireless, for the end customer to provide internet services has been permitted under the license. However, the same activity has now been proposed to be performed by the PDOAs,” Matthews further added to the letter, “This would also lead to substantial loss to the exchequer as the PDOAs and PDOs would not pay any licence fee or spectrum usage charge (SUC), or for that matter upfront payment for spectrum, to the government. Going down this path, it would only be fair and legally tenable if the government also exempts license fee and SUC for licensed operators.”
He said that if the government implements this move, then it will have to suffer massive losses at the hands of privatised PDOs. He also did not forget to mention that these unlicensed entities would make use of the de-licensed bands for commercial provision of internet services. Resorting to a sympathetic tone Rajan Matthews said that if the government deems it fit to install PDOs in rural areas, then the entities should be mandated via a license. He also asserted that all the service providers in the country should be exempted from paying regulatory taxes on revenue earned from internet services in the rural regions.
Talking about this exemption in the letter, the Director General wrote: “Further, such incentive should not be limited only to PDOAs but should also be extended to all service providers… who provide internet services (both wired or wireless) in the rural areas rather than promoting a particular business model.”