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TRAI asks for suggestions to ease licensing requirements in telecom sector

Government reforms for India’s struggling telecom sector tries to reduce the compliance burden.

telecom mobile tower

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has floated a new consultation paper to study existing processes, identify bottlenecks, and come up with new requirements in the telecom sector.

To promote ease of doing business, the paper asks for suggestions on simplifying the approval processes for the telecom products and services under various ministries, including the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the IT Ministry, and TRAI itself.

The Indian government is currently pursuing aggressive reforms in the telecom sector, getting rid of paperwork and approvals where possible. While stakeholders have been calling for reforms, it might lead to security and environmental concerns taking a back seat.

Comments on the consultation paper can be submitted by January 5, 2022, via email to dyadvbcs-1@trai.gov.in. You can read the full paper here.

TRAI accepting suggestions for changes in all telecom licenses

What types of improvements is TRAI considering? In the consultation paper, TRAI has asked if the present system of granting licenses needs any improvement in the ease of doing business, on the following fronts:

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  • Online Processes: Whether all processes, including submission of documents, cancellation of license etc. can be conducted online
  • Timeline: Whether more precise and well-defined timelines for granting permissions or responding to queries can be created
  • Outdated information: Whether application forms are archaic and contain information that’s no longer required
  • Integration: Whether more seamless integration and approvals across various ministries/ departments with the end-to-end online system is required

Which certificates/licenses are included? In the consultation paper, TRAI has listed out all the licenses that every department is responsible for and asked for suggestions on each one. Here are a few such licenses:

  • Department of Telecommunications
    • Internet Service Provider (ISP) License: This is the standard license for operators to offer internet services. ISP licenses are decentralised and are processed according to the DoT’s Licensed Serviced Areas.
    • Lawful interception monitoring (LIM): The licensing framework requires that telcos have provisions to intercept and monitor the network from a centralised network for the use of law enforcement agencies. Security clearance for the LIM license currently takes 2 months.
    • International roaming SIM cards: Companies selling international SIM cards in India need to obtain a NOC from the DoT, which is valid for a period of 3 years. The process takes anywhere between 15 days to 3 months.
    • Registration of Infrastructure Providers: Registration for companies providing telecom infrastructure under the DoT is currently carried out offline.
  • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology
    • Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS): The BIS is an institutional mechanism for certifying electronic products to ensure compliance with Indian standards and curb the inflow of substandard products.
    • Random checks: MeitY conducts random checks of products by purchasing samples from the market. The fee for such checks needs to be deposited with MeitY well in advance.
  • Department of Space
    • Satellite internet providers: The consultation paper notes that LEO satellite systems are taking off, and warns that additional licenses and permissions from the Department of Space might become necessary.

Additionally, TRAI is also accepting suggestions on the reports it seeks from telecom operators, through which it examines non-compliance and imposes penalties. “Do you think there is a need to improve the reporting and compliance system at TRAI?” the consultation paper asks broadly.

Procedural changes already introduced in the telecom sector

The Union Cabinet had approved a series of structural and process reforms in the telecom sector on September 15, 2021. Some of the procedural changes included:

  1. Auction calendar fixed: Spectrum auctions will normally be held in the last quarter of every financial year, the government announced, saying that this timeline would give telcos some certainty on when to prepare for auctions.
  2. Customs amendment: The “cumbersome requirement of licenses under 1953 Customs Notification for wireless equipment” has been removed, the government said. Telcos can now obtain such equipment with a self-declaration.
  3. e-KYC: App-based KYC has been permitted, and telcos will not be required to maintain paper records of customer acquisition forms (CAFs), IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said. “Shifting from Prepaid to Post-paid and vice-versa will not require fresh KYC,” the government said.
  4. Clearance for telecom towers eased: DoT will accept data on a portal based on a self-declaration basis for the construction of telecom towers. Portals of other Agencies (such as Civil Aviation) will be linked with the DoT Portal.

You can read about all the changes introduced under the latest telecom sector reforms here.

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