Public mobile radios can’t afford to pay commercial rates for spectrum
The government has no control over natural calamities. However, it certainly has control on making sure that essential services, which are required at the time of natural calamities, do not become a victim of policy paralysis.
One such case is the lack of policy-making in the area of Public Mobile Radio Trunking Service (PMRTS) by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
This sector today is suffering because no spectrum is being allocated to the operators because of absence of ruling as to at what price and how the spectrum is to be allotted. This is a classic case of lack of decision-making and is being blamed on the Supreme Court order issued in the 2G case.
The DoT has stopped allocation of spectrum for PMRTS, assuming that this allocation is also covered by the Supreme Court order, despite the fact that the Court has mentioned on several occasions that its order was limited to spectrum relating to 2G services.
The DoT appears to be completely blind to its own policy on PMRTS that was announced as part of guidelines on the Unified Licence policy which, inter alia, has a provision that, for all other services and usages like PMRTS, allocation of spectrum and charges thereof shall be as prescribed by the Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing of the DoT from time to time.
While the above policy provides for the allocation of spectrum for PMRTS through administrative pricing, the DoT is keeping its eyes closed on this provision. As a result, the matter is being shuttled between DoT and Trai to devise the basis of allocation and the result is non-allocation of spectrum to the operators.
PMRTS assists in closed user group coordination and is a necessity for public safety, disaster management and emergency relief operations, as well as for health department, public utility services, metro services, etc. PMRTS operators have provided services for coordination in emergency relief operations during the tsunami disaster of the last decade and recently during the onset and aftermath of the Hudhud cyclone in the Visakhapatnam region.
God forbid if any such calamity takes place, the first victim would be the collapse of fixed line and mobile services. In such an event, PMRTS becomes the primary source to set up communication links in the shortest possible time. But would the operators be able to provide services with the lack of spectrum allocation? The answer is ‘no’.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to allocate spectrum to PMRTS operators on the same lines as is being done for the users of VSAT services, users of captive mobile radio trunking services and allocation of frequencies for microwave access, which are all being allocated on administrative pricing and fall under a similar nature of services.
Not only will this allow such operators to maintain quality of service and be ready for any eventuality, the government will also earn revenue in the form of licence fees and spectrum usage charges, which are currently lying unutilised.
The author is founder & CEO, Tathya Consulting