Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has categorically dismiss any concerns that may have been reported, suggesting risks to the networks as a result of delays in meeting industry requests to the Department of telecommunications (DoT).
In a meeting held on April 13, 2020, between the DoT Secretary, senior members of the DoT and Director General, COAI, the continued preparedness of the industry to meet the requirements of citizens and customers during the continued period of the quarantine, were discussed.
In taking stock of the performance of the networks over the past weeks of the quarantine, note was taken of the substantial support provided by the DoT to the industry to meet the challenges of the increased traffic load on the networks and the logistical issues involved in maintaining the uptime of the networks. Assistance to request streaming video companies to reduce their content from HD to SD, setting up of single points of contact and operational centres in each LSA (Licensed Service Area), continuous interaction with the local TERM cells and local Police and Law Enforcement to provide free movement to critical network personnel, permissions to extend various reporting testing and filing requirements, notification of Telecom as an “essential service”, among other things, all ensured there were significant improvements in the ability of Operators and their partners to function smoothly during the period of the quarantine.
The DoT noted that as a result of the close working between the DoT and industry, the number of faulty BTSs were brought down from approximately 800 from before the quarantine to nearly 290. This was out of a total number of approximately 2.2 million BTSs, nationwide. Similarly, the number of optical fibre cuts, were reduced from approximately 100 per day from before the quarantine to approximately 19 fibre cuts during the past 15 days of the quarantine. Instructions were also provided to all power companies to ensure stable and continuous power to cell towers to minimize logistical movements.
In the meeting, the DoT also assured the industry that additional issues like the request for dynamic IP Addresses, additional backhaul spectrum, additional relaxation in filing compliance requirements due to the extension of the quarantine period, clearance of pending network equipment type approvals (ETA), SIM activations, movement of essential goods, etc., would all be reviewed and decisions taken expeditiously to address the concerns of the industry.
During the meeting, COAI raised the need for the government to address the distressed financial plight of the industry, on an expedited basis. It has asked for a reduction in the license fees (LF) and spectrum usage charge (SUC) as well as modifications in the GST where spectrum debt payments, LF and SUC payments would not be classified as “services” and hence not attract GST. The DoT Secretary has referred the matter to Member Finance for his follow-up.
COAI had recently approached ministry of finance with key asks including providing soft loan against GST input credit to address the immediate liquidity crunch, reducing the SUC to 3 per cent, reducing license fee (USOF Contribution) from 8 per cent to 3 per cent. The industry has also urged to exempt the levy of GST on license fees, SUC and payment of spectrum acquired in auctions. It also seeks exemption of service tax on amount of LF/SUC payable by telecom operators in compliance with the Supreme Court order.
“The industry appreciates the close working relation and timely actions by the DoT and the Secretary, Shri. Anshu Prakash, in addressing the critical issues of the industry during this unique period in the history of the nation. We wish to assure the citizens, customers and the government that despite the precarious financial health, the industry will do everything in its power to ensure that its networks will continue to function as a vibrant, essential component of the nation’s economic and communications health and well-being,” said Rajan S Mathews, director general, COAI.