The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s attempt to unleash a broadband and Internet revolution has met with stiff resistance in the department of telecom. Officials in the telecom ministry are questioning the viability of proposals like open sky policy for direct-to-home television services and very small aperture terminal operators, exemption in payment of royalty fees and reduction in annual licence fees.
This is apart from the immense resistance in public sector BSNL over the proposal to allow private firms to ride on its last mile network. BSNL has demanded reciprocity in this regard from private firms.
Hoping to replicate the booming growth in mobile services, TRAI chairman Pradip Baijal had unveiled the proposals on April 29 with the hope that India would have 20 million broadband users by 2010. Since then, DoT is examining the report. In the recent past, TRAI and DoT have moved in tandem on key issues. However, with the changes in the political dispensation, it remains to be seen as to how far the department is willing to go in accepting the TRAI proposals.
DoT officials said if TRAI’s suggestion to allow VSAT (and DTH) operators to provide connectivity between various telecom service providers was accepted, it would create a serious ‘level playing’ field issue.
“This will be an encroachment of the existing national long distance (NLD) licence, where operators have paid an entry fee of Rs 100 crore. VSAT operators should also pay this fee”, officials added.
On top of the Rs 100 crore, every NLD operator pays 10 per cent of its annual revenue to the government. As against this, commercial VSAT operators pay just one rupee. Apart from the commercial angle, DoT officials feel the open sky policy also has repercussions on the country’s satellite communications policy and could boost illegal call traffic.
“VSATs are the main source of illegal telecom traffic that undercuts licensed telecom service providers”, said officials. Similarly, the telecom department has also sought the views of the information and broadcasting ministry on the issue of an open sky policy for DTH operators.
There is also stiff opposition to TRAI mooting a reduction in licence fees for VSAT and DTH operators. Another TRAI recommendation – exempting DTH operators from paying spectrum royalty fees for uplinking — has been opposed on the grounds that it contravenes existing policies.