The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued its recommendations on the licensing framework and regulatory mechanism for submarine cable landing in the country. Submarine cables are crucial for global digital communication and serve as lifelines for a nation's communication infrastructure.
Concerns regarding the submarine cables landing in India
The Department of Telecom (DoT) had approached TRAI with concerns regarding the licensing framework and regulatory mechanism for submarine cables landing in India under existing UL-ILD/standalone ILD licenses.
The DoT highlighted that some Indian International Long Distance Operators (ILDOs), without any stake in submarine cable systems, were seeking clearance on behalf of the cable owners for laying and maintaining such cables in India. Additionally, they were applying for the establishment of Cable Landing Stations (CLS) for these submarine cables.
TRAI also identified other related issues, including the need for an Indian-flagged vessel for cable operation and maintenance, provisions for domestic submarine cables between Indian coastal cities, the concept of stub-cables for upcoming new cables, and clarity on terrestrial connectivity between different Cable Landing Stations.
Release of Consultation Paper
To address these concerns, TRAI released a consultation paper titled "Licensing Framework and Regulatory Mechanism for Submarine Cable Landing in India" on December 23, 2023. The paper invited comments and counter-comments from various stakeholders, which are available on the TRAI website. An Open House Discussion (OHD) was also conducted via video conference on April 19, 2022, to gather further insights and perspectives.
Based on the inputs received during the consultation process, discussions held during the OHD, and careful analysis of the issues, TRAI has now finalized its recommendations on the "Licensing Framework and Regulatory Mechanism for Submarine Cable Landing in India."
The key highlights of these recommendations are as follows:
- Licensing and Regulatory Changes: TRAI suggests two categories of CLS locations: Main CLS and CLS Point of Presence (CLS-PoPs). While the owners of Main CLS would be required to seek permissions for submarine cable landing, the owners of CLS-PoPs will not need such permissions. However, all owners, including CLS-PoPs, must comply with security, regulatory, and licensing obligations.
- Ownership of Submarine Cable Laying: ILDO or ISP Category 'A' licensees seeking permissions for establishing Main CLS must provide an undertaking demonstrating their ownership and control over assets in Indian Territorial Waters (ITW) and at the CLS.
- Indian Flagged Vessel for Cable Operation and Maintenance: TRAI recommends the formation of a committee comprising government representatives and major ILDOs with a stake in submarine cable systems. This committee will study and propose financial viability models for Indian Flagged Repair Vessels, including potential incentives from the government. It also suggests pursuing existing SMC ship repair operators in the Indian subcontinental region to relocate and reflag their repair vessels to Indian ports.
- Domestic Submarine Cable: TRAI suggests allowing the establishment of domestic submarine cables connecting multiple cities along the Indian coastline under the National Long Distance (NLD) License/authorization. The recommendations emphasize equal access and non-discrimination for all NLD license operators at Cable Landing Stations (CLS).
- Terrestrial Link between CLS: TRAI proposes explicit provisions in International Long Distance (ILD) licenses to permit terrestrial connectivity between different CLSs. It also clarifies that transit international traffic not intended for termination in India can be routed to other submarine cables through terrestrial and submarine links.
- Stub-Cable: TRAI recommends permitting ILD/ISP licensees to lay stub-cable (pre-laid dark fiber SMC) within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for future expansion. However, requirements for disclosure, fair access, and transfer of ownership must be met.
- Other Issues: TRAI's recommendations also include according "Essential Services" status to CLS and submarine cable operations, seeking exemption from customs duty and GST for repair and maintenance activities, facilitating online clearances for environmental impact assessment and coastal region zone, and prioritizing submarine cables in the Indian Telecommunication Bill.
The detailed recommendations, including specific guidelines and further insights, can be accessed on TRAI's official website.
These recommendations by TRAI aim to establish a comprehensive licensing framework and regulatory mechanism for submarine cable landing in India, addressing key concerns and ensuring a robust and secure communication infrastructure in the country.