All the major telecom operators in the country have crowded around Trai to request the watchdog from preventing unlicensed entities to develop public Wi-Fi hotspots in cities. The operators have cited that such a move on the regulator’s behalf will be illegal. Trai, in March last year had recommended the telecommunications department that a new category of public data office aggregators would give a boost to India’s broadband infrastructure by providing cheap public Wi-Fi in towns.
Rajan Matthews, the Director General of Cellular Operators Association of India said in a letter to Aruna Sundararajan “Trai’s recommendations, if implemented, will be in conflict with the existing licensing framework, and more importantly, establishing public Wi-Fi networks without a licence would be illegal and in violation of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.” ET saw a copy of this letter.
The COAI which represents the big telcos like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio Infocomm drafted the letter on June 8 and explained its stance on the issue.
It was COAI’s opinion that implementation of the Trai recommendation would “adversely affect the level playing field” as licensed operators adhere to the regulations and guidelines set for the service providers. In addition, they also pay the levies such as licence fees, spectrum usage charges. However, the unlicensed entities would not do either of these things.
The letter further said, “Allowing the same activity to be performed by an unlicensed entity would give it an unfair advantage and lead to revenue losses for the financially stressed licensed operators.”
The COAI is emphasising that the DoT should take an informed decision on the Trai recommendation “within the four corners of the law to ensure consistency in the regulatory regime, and preclude any undue disruption to the smooth functioning of the telecom industry.”
The association also spoke about security concerns saying that putting trust on unlicensed entities for data provision could also pose a serious threat to data security and privacy of the users, who make use of these services.
Trai in its suggestions to the DoT said that the department should tweak the internet service provider permit rules alongside freeing new spectrum bands and hastening steps to make access devices cheaper. As per COAI’s consensus, this would pave an easier path for availing cheap public Wi-Fi services to the public.
Trai said that the joint venture between third parties and aggregators would propel entrepreneurial growth in rural areas. It was the regulator’s suggestion that the aggregators be allowed to partner with third-party application/service providers so that they can manage authentication and payment processes for the said Wi-Fi services.
COAI again said that “delicense airwaves in the V-band,” typically in the 57 GHz to 64 GHz range for public Wi-Fi services, would be “a double hit to existing telecom service providers” as not only the licence but also the spectrum would be provided for free to (unlicensed) entities to provide internet network services which might create many complications in the market, both for the end consumers as well as the other licensed telecom operators.