Wi-Fi without licence can land you in trouble? Know why industry bodies are claiming this

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New Delhi | July 9, 2018 2:09 AM

Industry associations have urged the government, including the PMO, to review Trai’s recommendation allowing public data office aggregators (PDOAs) and public data offices (PDOs) to provide internet through Wi-Fi without a licence.

Wi-Fi without licence violates telegraph Act, Trai Act, claim industry bodies

Industry associations — COAI, ISPAI and Assocham — have urged the government, including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), to review Trai’s recommendation allowing public data office aggregators (PDOAs) and public data offices (PDOs) to provide internet through Wi-Fi without a licence, which they claim violates the Indian Telegraph Act and Trai Act.

While telecom operators’ body COAI and internet service provider’s (ISPs) association ISPAI have written separate letters to the PMO, the Assocham has approached telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan with their grievances.

“We believe the proposal to sell internet services without a licence will be a complete bypass of the present licensing framework, detrimental to massive investments already made in spectrum, telecom infrastructure and services,” COAI director-general Rajan S Mathews said in the letter.

The association said Trai recommendation to introduce the concept of PDOAs and PDOs under the registration is flawed and beyond the scope of Trai Act as the regulator is authorised to frame rules related to licensed operators and not unlicensed operators.

Explaining that internet is a network, which supports communication between end points, COAI said the medium works over different media platforms like wireline, wireless, etc and messages are transferred in the form of sign, writing, image, sound or intelligence.

“It is therefore clear that equipment used for internet services are covered under the definition of telegraph as defined in the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. Allowing a service like internet to be resold in any other manner other than licence such as registration or authorisation would be against the basic foundation of unified licensing and harm the financial health of the industry,” the letter said. “Trai seems to be recommending a non-level playing field where licensed operators shall continue to require licence, pay regulatory levies and ensure adherence to various regulatory- and security-related requirements, whereas same activities will be allowed to PDOAs and PDOs without obtaining a licence,” Mathews rued.

ISPAI president Rajesh Chharia told the PMO that Trai’s suggestion will lead to intrusion of bigger foreign entities in the domain of licensed service providers by bypassing the licensing conditions, requirements of security and without paying any licence fee to the government.

“This would give these bigger foreign players unfair advantage over smaller ISPs by creating a non-level playing field. This will only help large foreign operators who intent to work without being subjected to any licensing regime, any revenue share and other licensing and security compliance requirements,” he added.

Assocham secretary-general in his letter to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said introducing PDOs and PDOAs runs contrary to the Trai Act.

Trai has power to regulate only service providers and not unlicensed entities. Further, Trai can also make its recommendations related to the licence or the service provider only. Besides, Trai is required to protect the interests of consumers. However, providing internet services under a registration certificate affects consumer interests as the authority does not have the power to regulate unlicensed entities, he explained.

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