It’s a clean-up that happened quietly over the weekend. The government by a gazette notification amended the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 to include the Indian Telegraph Right of Way Rules, 2016. This is one of the biggest changes after agreeing to harmonising spectrum and allowing operators to share and trade in radio spectrum. By doing this the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has at one shot cleaned up the process for telecom operators to get approvals to lay optic fibre networks.
Over the years, telecom operators have had major tussles with a variety of local bodies/municipalities to get access to laying fibre in towns and cities. Now, the Centre has specified that state/town authorities have to provide permission within 60 days of getting an application from a telecom service provider. In case of rejection, that has to be conveyed in writing within the period, else it will be considered as granted.
By notifying the rules under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Centre has asserted its right to give instructions to local bodies and municipalities for faster telecom network roll-out that is critical for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative. To ensure that there are no bottlenecks, the Centre has also capped the amount that local bodies can charge telcos. Under the new rules, a telco can be charged Rs 1,000 per kilometre for underground cables and a one-time fee to meet administrative expenses with each application cannot exceed Rs 10,000 for over ground cables. Local bodies may, however, demand that telcos restore the damage to existing infrastructure.
That should lay to rest the phenomenally high charges that some municipalities have over the years sought from telecom operators to lay fibre in key areas. The quicker roll-out of fibre across the country could lead to better quality of service for customers and faster roll-out of mobile broadband across India. However, it remains to be seen whether this initiative will help speed-up the much delayed roll-out of fibre to gram panchayats under BharatNet.