The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended several measures to improve telecom coverage and backhaul infrastructure in far-flung areas of Ladakh. TRAI's recommendations include resource pooling across telcos on spare backhaul transmission capacity and maintaining a waiting list of service demand by licensed operators, according to a report by PTI.
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Remote Areas in Ladakh lack Mobile Towers
TRAI noted that many remote areas in Ladakh lack mobile towers, resulting in network issues, particularly for those residing near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the Line of Control (LoC). Media reports have also highlighted the challenges people who live near the LAC face in accessing high-speed internet, which is critical for pursuing online education and accessing digital banking.
Gap Analysis and Evaluation
According to the report, TRAI conducted a gap analysis and evaluated the government-sponsored Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) schemes to come up with its recommendations. The regulator observed that three villages in Ladakh neither have any coverage nor were included in ongoing schemes.
BSNL has indicated that these villages will be included under the "Saturation of 4G mobile services" project. However, TRAI has recommended that USOF must ensure the inclusion of the three uncovered villages of Ladakh under this project.
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4G Connectivity in Ladakh
TRAI also pointed out that 19 villages in Ladakh neither have 4G coverage nor are they included in ongoing schemes for providing 4G coverage. The expenditure to be incurred for upgrading the existing non-4G based cellular mobile infrastructure at these 19 villages should be funded by the government through USOF.
"In 12 out of these 19 villages, TRAI recommends that the VSAT connectivity provided under BharatNet can also double as backhaul for 4G connectivity. In the remaining seven uncovered villages, VSAT connectivity on a shared basis should be considered till connectivity on optical fibre cable media is extended to these villages," the report quoted TRAI suggestions.
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Fair and Non-Discriminatory Access
TRAI recommended that all operating telcos in Ladakh must provide "fair and non-discriminatory access" to their spare backhaul transmission media resource capacity through lease/rent or on mutually agreeable terms and conditions to other telecom and internet service providers.
TRAI suggests that a committee of TERM field unit of Jammu and Kashmir and representatives of all telecom service providers should be formed to help resource pooling across TSPs. A second-level committee at the telecom department headquarters should be formed to periodically review and resolve any impediment being experienced by any affected entity.
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TRAI recommended that charges paid by lessee operator to any lessor operator for use of spare backhaul media transmission resource capacity should be reduced from the gross revenues of the lessor to arrive at Applicable Gross Revenue (ApGR). Licensed telcos should maintain a waiting list of service demand. TRAI suggested that the Department of Telecom (DoT) should establish a mechanism to obtain, examine, and analyse the data on the waitlist from all telecom service providers.
TRAI also said that DoT should do a site-wise analysis of all sites that are being run by BSNL or any other TSP on VSAT in remote and hilly areas in Ladakh. For all such sites that are being run to serve strategic or service delivery needs of the government, the entire operational costs of running these sites should be borne by the government.