The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has announced new amendments to the Indian Telegraph Right of Way (RoW) Rules, 2016, to expedite telecom infrastructure roll-out for 5G networks. It also launched a new 5G RoW application form on GatiShakti Sanchar Portal to enable faster 5G roll-out in India.

As part of the amendments, RoW application procedures for small cells have been simplified to facilitate faster 5G roll-out. Telecom licensees will be able to use street infrastructure to deploy telecom equipment at a nominal cost of Rs 150/annum in rural areas and Rs 300/annum in urban areas. To facilitate faster fiberisation, street infrastructure may be utilised at a nominal cost of Rs 100/annum to install overground optical fibre.

Prior to the amendments, telecom licensees had to submit RoW applications on different platforms of states/UTs. The amendments provide for a single window clearance system for RoW applications. Gati Shakti Sanchar Portal will be the single window portal for all telecom related RoW applications.

Further, the DoT has rationalised the administrative fees that telecom licensees were earlier required to pay for RoW permissions. As per the amendments, no administrative fee shall be charged by central government or its agencies for establishment of poles on the land owned or controlled by them, whereas the fee shall be limited to Rs 1,000 per pole for states/UTs. Moreover, the amendments prescribe a methodology to calculate the area occupied by telecom infrastructure to bring uniformity in computation of area and associated charges for the telecom infrastructure across the country.

Through the amendments, the DoT has allowed telecom licensees to enter into agreement with private property owners to install telecom infrastructure on private property without any permission from any government authority. However, the licensees will be required to give prior intimation along with structural suitability certificate to the appropriate authority.

According to Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Communications, Electronics and Information Technology and Railways, these amendments will pave the way for deployment of 5G small cells on existing street infrastructure. With these series of reforms, the country is now ready for launch of 5G services by October 2022.

Industry reactions:

Commenting on the initiative, T. R. Dua, director general, Digital Infrastructure Providers Association, said, “The release of RoW rules amendment and launch of 5G RoW application form on GatiShakti Sanchar Portal will ease RoW related permission procedures for establishment and augmentation of digital communications infrastructure across the country. With a robust pan India digital infrastructure, the digital divide between rural-urban and rich-poor will be bridged. Ultimately it will be an acceleration towards achieving the dream of India’s transition to a digitally empowered economy and society will be translated into a reality. These amendments in place now, will go a long way in creating necessary infrastructure to cater to forthcoming 5G rollouts in the country.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Dr. SP Kochhar, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India, said, “We are thankful to DoT for introducing the much-awaited amendments in the RoW Rules, 2016 with so many positive factors for the telecom sector. As the country is set to witness the 5G technology, the Indian Telegraph RoW (Amendment) Rules, 2022 will ensure the speedy roll-out of the technology and make the dream of 5G enabled India comes true. Access to the existing infrastructure, deployment of new infrastructure, and the high cost involved in it were major challenges the telecom sector always came across which will now be eased down. We are also elated to have 5G RoW application form on GatiShakti Sanchar Portal which is again a positive sign to speed up the installation process of digital infrastructure. We are sure that such initiatives will bring us a step closer to achieving the Digital India vision of the prime minister.”

Further, Jaideep Ghosh, COO, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co., said, “RoW has been an impediment for faster roll out of telecom networks due to a plethora of varying processes and rates across several agencies and states. Bringing RoW on a single platform, along with other elements of telecom networks, is a leapfrog step for India.”