India’s private telcos can’t meet minimum rollout obligations

rollout obligations
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India’s private telecom operators – Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio – could be penalized by the country’s telecom department (DoT) for not meeting their minimum network rollout obligations. To avoid penalties, all three telcos have urged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to extend the compliance timelines by six to nine months.

The DoT had suspended the registration and testing related to telecom operators’ rollout obligation thrice since March 31, 2020. The obligation timelines are linked to the spectrum band assigned to each telecom operator and the date of allocation.

Minimum rollout obligations (MRO) mandate the speed at which telecom service providers need to expand their networks to specific portions of their licensed area when they are allocated spectrum.

“We wish to bring to your notice that the Industry had requested to provide relaxation/extension for meeting all forthcoming Minimum Rollout Obligation (MRO) timelines by further 6-9 months as due to the lockdown, it would be difficult to complete many activities leading to registration and testing,” said Rajan Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India said in a letter to the DoT.

COAI is a representative body of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio Infocomm.

In case of no relief provided by the DoT, all three telecom operators may have to pay a hefty sum per violation for failing to meet their minimum network rollout obligations.

COAI said that the entire process of MRO or minimum roll out obligation entails multiple critical and complex activities including site acquisition and approvals required from various local bodies, coordination with various partners for drive-tests or self-testing and preparation of exhaustive test reports, along with CDR (call data records). It said that telcos also need to submit reports in hardcopies to India’s Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring Cell (TERM), which is difficult during the nation-wide lockdown.

“Even the preliminary preparatory steps like site survey for data collection for making SACFA applications are completely halted for the time being. Further, there are delays in applying & getting final clearance certificates for SACFA of sites,” Mathews said in his letter.

Telecom operators have also said that delays in the import of network equipment have also resulted in critical delays in planned rollout and deployments. They noted that network equipment is stuck at various ports across the globe.

“…there is critical time loss happening from delays in each of these activities/steps and MRO being a time-bound activity with huge penalties for delay. It would be unfair if the telecom service providers (TSPs) were to suffer from any of these penalties for a situation that can at best be described as “Force Majeure”,” Mathews said.

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