BIF bats for unbundling various layers in telecom with safeguards to protect competition

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November 5, 2020 5:59 PM

The Broadband India Forum (BIF), in its submissions to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said "layered licensing" would help strengthen the service delivery by improving quality of service.

"Unbundling becomes important from the point of view of all stakeholders viz. IP-1s, OTTs and service providers for next-generation services," BIF opined."Unbundling becomes important from the point of view of all stakeholders viz. IP-1s, OTTs and service providers for next-generation services," BIF opined.

Unbundling of various layers in telecom like infrastructure, network and services will offer scope for sharing of resources, including networks, leading to its optimum utilisation and more revenue streams for service providers, industry think tank BIF has said.

An unbundled framework would, however, require adequate safeguards to protect competition and innovation, BIF said adding that network providers should be required to provide access to their network in a fair, reasonable, time-bound, and non-discriminatory manner to all players in the service delivery layer, in such a regime.

The Broadband India Forum (BIF), in its submissions to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said “layered licensing” would help strengthen the service delivery by improving quality of service.

TRAI had, in August this year, floated a final discussion paper on enabling unbundling of specific layers of telecom like infrastructure, network, services, through differential licensing. TRAI sought industry’s views on whether network services layer and service delivery layer need to be separated, by introducing specific licence for network element alone.

In its submissions to the regulator, BIF has said: “Unbundling will lead to so many benefits that the sum of the parts is likely to far exceed the total.”

With scope of each layer being clearly defined and less than that needed of the full-fledged big player, the investment requirement will reduce and may encourage more participation from the small and mid-sized players.

“The current heavy-handed licensing approach is discouraging many possible investors due to massive size of investments requirement and the onerous conditions of doing business,” it said.

BIF noted that “an army of many small investors is needed to fuel the investment needs of the large Indian market”, and that “unbundling is a step forward in this direction”.

Unbundling of different layers will offer opportunities for sharing telecom resources (including networks) and thereby lead to its optimum utilisation, which would create additional revenue streams for the service providers.

“Unbundling becomes important from the point of view of all stakeholders viz. IP-1s, OTTs and service providers for next-generation services,” BIF opined.

It said scope of the network layer as envisaged through the enhanced scope of IP1 so as to include active infrastructure besides passive infra, is sufficient. The `Network Providers’ would be responsible for owning, building, operating, managing and maintaining the network.

In effect, network layer could consist of two kinds of players — basic digital infrastructure creators layer (including IP-1) and network providers layer (those owning core networks alongwith access to unique rights like right to interference free and scarce spectrum, numbering scheme and interconnection).

Service Delivery Layer would be an overlay on the network layer and consist of players providing services using telecom resources from others, such as Virtual Network Operators (VNOs).

A single entity can be permitted to have licence of both the layers — Network Services and Service Delivery Category, BIF wrote.

“The network layer entity could be permitted to provide services under the service delivery layer.

However, those that are exclusively in the service delivery layer must have fair, reasonable, transparent and non-discriminatory access to the network layer for providing the services on equal footing as integrated players/service delivery entity,” it said.

It mooted more regulatory oversight for integrated operator as compared to the service delivery operator.

BIF also favoured a “radically liberalised approach” in the form of a simple online registration for service providers.

“Those that wish to provide integrated services that shall include both the service layer and the network layer through a choice of licensed spectrum and other associated rights viz. RoW (Right of Way), numbering resources, right to interconnection, etc. may be subjected to operate under a framework of some form of licensing,” it said.

For an entity operating in both layers, a clear structural separation of the two parts and clear accounting separation, would be needed, BIF said.

Suitable safeguards to protect competition and innovation are a must, it said. In particular, rules need to specify that integrated entity cannot offer more favourable terms to its own service delivery section, as compared to other competing service providers.

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