Govt greenlights framework for licence-free Wi-Fi

14 Dec 2020

India’s Cabinet has approved the Department of Telecommunications’ (DOT’s) proposed regulatory structure for the provision of broadband services through public Wi-Fi networks. The programme, dubbed the Prime Minister’s Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI), aims to accelerate the take-up of broadband services nationwide by enabling the use of public Wi-Fi networks to deliver fast and stable connectivity, with deployment encouraged by exempting providers from licensing fees.

Under the PM-WANI framework, Public Data Offices (PDOs) will establish Wi-Fi hotspots to provide last-mile connectivity to subscribers by procuring bandwidth from ISPs. In practice, the government expects PDOs to take the form of local shops and small businesses that will serve their local communities. PDOs are not required to hold a licence or to register the business with regulatory authorities, and will not need to pay fees to the DoT. Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs), meanwhile, will aggregate PDOs and provide services relating to accounting and authorisation for PDOS. PDOAs are similarly exempt from holding a licence but are required to register, albeit with no registration fee. Finally, the PM-WANI scheme requires application providers to develop applications to register users, help customers find PM-WANI hotspots and to authenticate subscribers. As with PDOAs, these app providers will just be required to register and are not subject to licence fees. The initial registry of PDOAs and application providers will be established and managed by the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).

In a statement from the DoT the ministry noted that approach is intended to be business friendly, with the removal of licensing requirements in particular aligning with the government’s policy goals of improving ease of doing business. The DoT went on to elaborate on the PM-WANI’s goals: ‘COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated delivery of stable and high speed broadband internet services to an increasingly large number of subscribers in the country including areas which do not have 4G mobile coverage. This can be achieved by deployment of Public Wi-Fi. Further, the proliferation of public Wi-Fi will not only create employment but also enhance disposable incomes in the hands of small and medium entrepreneurs and boost the GDP of the country.’