Government’s public Wi-Fi plan, likely to offer data at Rs 2, runs into trouble

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New Delhi | Published: July 9, 2018 3:46:06 PM

DoT foresees a timeline to deploy the 1Gbps Internet connectivity to nearly every gram panchayat by the year 2020.

TRAI had recently proposed to set up PDOs across the country

Government’s ambitious plan to make India a Wi-Fi-enabled country has hit a roadblock with India’s top body representing telecom companies saying that the public Wi-Fi expansion plans in the country via Public Data Offices (PDOs) flout the Telegraph Act of India. The Cellular Association of India has alleged that the expansion plans of public Wi-Fi through specially-designed Public Data Offices will crumble the level playing field and harm the huge investments made by the leading telcos in India.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had recently proposed to set up PDOs across the country that will save huge investments into the adequate infrastructure for public Wi-Fi hotspots while providing the users as much capable services via small kiosk-like shops and vending spots. It will not only be cost-efficient for the citizens but also will repel the licensing system applicable to ISPs and TSPs in India.

COAI has, in a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, said that the TRAI’s suggestions for PDOs, which have been accepted by the government, will disrupt the level playing field as the PDOs won’t have to pay any licensing fee or spectrum usage charges for providing the wireless Internet services commercially while the licensed telecom operators are burdened with regulatory levies.

The letter sent to the PMO comes at a time when Department of Telecom, or DoT, is moving ahead with its Wi-Fi expansion plan with a Rs 10,000 crore tender reserved for the development of Wi-Fi hotspots. The government’s telecom body aims to make the Internet accessible to every citizen for as low as Rs 2. The PDOs will be set up by the government in partnership with small businesses and individuals, thereby, creating more employment opportunities in the form of PDO Aggregators, or PDOAs.

DoT foresees a timeline to deploy the 1Gbps Internet connectivity to nearly every gram panchayat by the year 2020. This is in addition to setting up over 5 million public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country by 2020 and 10 million by the year 2022.

COAI’s concern centring the dismissal of the Telegraph Act with the setting up of PDOs has been mentioned in the letter vividly. According to The Telegraph Act, the telecom services can only be provided by the central government or an entity authorised or licensed by the central government. However, DoT says that the proposal to set up PDOs complies with the Telegraph Act as the license to offer telecom services can be in any form. The PDOs while registering themselves will need to accept and adhere to the licence conditions. The registration will serve as the parameter conforming to the licence requirements for the telecom services deployment across the country.

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