India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued a notification introducing new rules to regulate optical fibre and mobile tower infrastructure, effective from 15 November 2016. The Indian Telegraph Right of Way Rules, 2016, establishes a standard framework for licensees to secure permissions for the installation of underground and ‘overground’ infrastructure from local authorities. The regulations set out standardised application processes for the two network types, detailing the specific documentation and information that the licensee must provide. Authorities must respond to the application within 60 days, having assessed the application based on criteria stipulated in the new rules, either approving the application or rejecting it, although the authority must provide the reasons for the rejection in writing and allow the provider to respond. The rules also include the authority’s right to supervise the construction work, with the ability to impose additional ‘reasonable conditions’. Also included are formalised processes for authorities to request the removal of infrastructure and for dispute resolution.
Commenting on the publication of the right of way (RoW) rules, Director General of industry group the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) Rajan Matthews welcomed the move, with the Economic Times quoting the official as saying: ‘It is a great move to assist the industry with improving the quality of service experience of customers. This will provide a great fillip to expanding cell sites coverage as well as fibre implementation to support broadband services.’
The new rules are expected to relive several issues impacting India’s telecoms industry, most importantly the ongoing battle between telcos and authorities over cell sites and service quality. Fears over radiation from cell sites has led to the forced closure of many sites, and municipal authorities have opposed the deployment of new infrastructure, contributing to issues of dropped calls and poor service quality. Faced with these additional barriers, operators have found it difficult to take the necessary steps to improve quality of service (QoS), whilst at the same time coming under pressure from sector watchdog the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to meet QoS standards. The new rules are expected to resolve the matter, simplifying the process for operators to roll out new infrastructure and limiting authorities’ capacity to arbitrarily block the construction of new sites.