Indian telcos warn of broadband disruption because of row over RoW

right of way blocked RoW
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Indian telecom operators and infrastructure providers have warned authorities that broadband coverage could see disruptions in the coming weeks in the absence of important right of way (RoW) approvals for laying optic fibre cables for wired service and installing new towers for wireless services.

Last year, the Indian government directed companies to file applications through state-run online portals, which are non-operational since last few weeks due to technical snags, delaying RoW approvals to telecom operators and infrastructure providers as per a report by the Economic Times.

Telecom companies have urged India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) to immediately intervene.

“Online portals are currently operating in just three states – Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Assam – which is why tower companies are facing big challenges elsewhere in getting approvals for setting up new mobile towers, laying optical fibre and obtaining RoW clearances,” TR Dua, director-general of the Tower & Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) was quoted as saying by the publications.

TAIPA represents American Tower Corporation (ATC), Indus Towers, Summit Digitel (formerly known as Reliance Jio Infratel), Ascend Telecom and Tower Vision, amongst others.

As many as 45,000 applications for setting up telecom towers are pending with various Indian states. A majority of these applications were filed online in key states such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana, as per TAIPA.

19 Indian states and union territories had announced their plans to launch online single-window clearance portals.

Dua said that the lack of telecom towers will impact telecom connectivity, especially amid the surge in data consumption in the country.

Data consumption on 4G networks has gone up 30 – 40% in the last few quarters. Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio have been expanding their respective networks both for capacity and coverage to address the surging data demand.

Airtel and Jio have also been growing their respective 4G subscriber bases in India.

Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, separately said that telcos and infrastructure companies face huge issues, particularly in Delhi, Bihar and Uttarakhand.

SP Kochhar, director general of COAI, said that its member telcos had sought the telecom department’s urgent intervention to address challenges being faced by them on the non-availability of online portals to grant permissions for speedy rollout of telecom infrastructure.

“…around 10,000 applications by companies for installing towers and laying cables are languishing at various local municipalities/ self-governing bodies due to the non-availability of online portal facilities for speedy clearances,” Kochhar said.

India’s wireline broadband market has also seen growth since March 2020. Smaller home broadband players continue to grow even as bigger rivals like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel expanded their footprints in the country, as per a recent report by Motilal Oswal.

Jio and Airtel had 1.7 million and 2.7 million fixed broadband subscribers, respectively in October, as per the latest data released by India’s telecom regulator, TRAI.

BSNL and MTNL had a total of 8.3 million wired broadband subscribers, while ACT had 1.7 million wired broadband subscribers. Rest smaller wired broadband players had a total 7.2 million subscribers. “…laying optical fiber cables to each home and across workplaces has become critical to augment broadband capacity with work-from-home (WFH) practices adopted across the country, including educational institutions,” Kochhar said.

Related article: India brings in new scheme to accelerate broadband via Public Wi-Fi

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