The central government notified the new Indian Telegraph Right of Way (RoW) Rules in November 2016. These rules lay down a clear framework for the grant of approvals in a time-bound, transparent and uniform manner, with regard to the deployment of both over-the-ground and underground infrastructure. The support of the state governments is indispensable to the implementation of the new rules as well as for bringing in the desired change in the infrastructure laying mechanism. To this end, the industry has hailed the efforts made by the Odisha and Haryana governments to introduce state-specific comprehensive policy frameworks that can help address the telecom infrastructure issues in these states. In line with the RoW rules issued by the central government, the state policies prescribe time-bound approvals, minimum charges for installation, appointment of nodal officers and establishment of grievance redressal committees.

A look at the key features of the policies released by the two state governments…

Odisha Mobile Towers, OFC and related Telecom Infrastructure Policy, 2017

The Odisha government has notified a dedicated policy to regulate the installation of mobile towers and laying of optical fibre cable (OFC) in the state. The policy lays strong emphasis on streamlining the application process, granting approvals within a reasonable time frame, liberalising permission fees and rationalising the procedures. It also seeks to encourage the development of telecommunication networks in the remote, hilly and left wing extremism (LWE)-affected areas of Odisha; setting up of modern telecommunication infrastructure to provide high speed internet facility in gram panchayats and villages; and augmentation of terrestrial broadband connectivity in urban and rural areas. The state’s electronics and information technology department will be the nodal agency for implementing the policy.

In addition, the policy prescribes setting up of district-level telecom committees (DTCs), which will be the first appellate authority to deal with the grievances. The DTCs will organise public awareness programmes in different districts to make people aware of the installation and maintenan­ce requirements of telecom infrastructure for seamless service delivery. The DTCs will also convene meetings and resolve public grievances within 30 days of the complaint registration. The recommendations of the DTCs will be binding on the municipal corporation/municipality/gram panchayat or any other associated authority. The party aggrieved with the decision of the first appellate authority has the option to appeal to the state-level committee.

The policy recognises mobile communication towers as essential and critical infrastructure, which provides public utility services, and removes all restrictions on location unless ordered otherwise by courts or relevant authorities. As per the policy, towers can be installed at all locations regardless of their specified land use including all types of residential buildings and group housing buildings; all types of industrial and commercial buildings; institutional buildings and hospitals; vacant areas like parks, playgrounds, forest land, and land earmarked for public amenities; and lands and buildings under the jurisdiction of government departments, government-controlled bodies and state PSUs.

As per the policy, the licensee will have to deposit a one-time application fee and annual charges for using the land and buildings of the government as well as statutory and non-statutory institutions. The one-time permission fee for the installation of telecom towers is Rs 10,000 in urban areas and Rs 5,000 in rural areas. The permit issued under the policy will be coterminous with the validity of the licence issued to the telecom service provider (TSP) or the infrastructure provider (IP). The applicants can also share the towers with multiple TSPs for installing antennas and other active equipment. Further, a formal clearance or permit will not be required for the installation of cell on wheels (COW) for specific purposes to provide good quality mobile coverage during festivals and other occasions. Moreover, no fees will be charged for the installation of COW.

The policy also seeks to promote the installation of in-building solutions (IBS) to strengthen the quality of service in the interiors of the state. No approvals are required from the local authority for the installation of these components in private buildings. However, in the case of government buildings permission from the administrative authority of the concerned building is required. While no fee will be charged for the deployment of IBS, charges can be levied for the provision of power, fixtures, etc.

For enabling smooth approvals and roll-out of OFC, the state-level telecom committee or the district-level telecom committee will examine the applications directly. The RoW permission for the use of government land will be issued free of cost for projects under BharatNet.

The policy urges government agencies to build utility ducts for common benefits that will be made available to TSPs/IPs on payment of a utility fee. Further, as per the policy, the various utility service providers extending services such as electricity, water supply pipes, gas pipes, sewerage, and RoW works will have to intimate to the concerned local authority and also the concerned TSPs/IPs well in advance while undertaking new construction or repair works in specific alignment to OFC. This is to give sufficient time to the TSPs/IPs to make plans for shifting the OFC to avoid disruption in mobile and internet services.

Haryana Communication and Connectivity Infrastructure Policy, 2017

The Haryana Communication and Con­nec­tivity Policy, 2017 seeks to encourage the adoption of the latest technologies in the telecom sector such as fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and innovative business models such as the open access network. It provides a future roadmap for creation of an enabling infrastructure with pre-laid OFC having sufficient bandwidth in proper ducts so as to allow multiple service provi­ders to use the same infrastructure on a sharing basis.

As per the policy, the permission for RoW or right of use (RoU) and the installation of the associated infrastructure will be provided to an eligible applicant on a non-exclusive basis. However, given the space constraints for RoW for multiple service providers in any specific area, the first-mover advantage principle would operate and any subsequent entrant will have to share the infrastructure capacity already laid by the first-moving service provider.

The policy also advises the state agencies and private developers to earmark a predefined route alignment along the internal road circulation network in line with the required specifications  so as to avoid repeated digging. Further, it has encouraged the state development agencies to provide for ducts and lay the OFC with sufficient bandwidth capacity and redundancy, as part of their future development plans, which may be leased out to operators on a recurring charge basis.

The RoW rules lay down a clear framework for the grant of approvals in a time-bound, transparent and uniform manner, with regard to the deployment of both overthe-ground and underground infrastructure.

The policy also proposes a single-window mechanism for the submission and processing of applications. All applications for seeking permission for laying the communication infrastructure will have to be submitted to the concerned deputy commissioner who will forward the application to the designated nodal officer/s of the concerned state government department, sta­tutory authority, or state agency through a portal already established by the state government. The concerned deputy commissioner of the district will be the single contact person for all clearances. The permission will be deemed granted if the nodal officer fails to either approve or reject the application within 45 days of its submission.

To address the public grievances re­garding the installation of towers and te­le­com infrastructure, the state government has already established a state-level telecom committee along with several DTCs.

Recognising telecom installations as lifeline installations and critical infrastructure in mobile communication, the state government will treat telecommunication services as essential services. Hen­ce, all be­ne­fits as applicable to other in­frastructure industries will be extended to the telecom infrastructure industry as well. Further, as per the policy, the sealing of mobile towers or disconnection of electricity will not be resorted to without the consent of the respective Telecom Enforce­m­ent, Resour­ce and Monitoring Cell of the Department of Telecommuni­cations (DoT) in respect of electromagnetic frequency-related issues. Moreover, the DTCs will not take suo moto actions based on public protests, com­p­la­ints, petitions, press and media reports, etc. Further, if the decision of the DTCs goes against the applicant, the operation of a mobile tower will not be discontinued without giving the applicant due opportunity to file an appeal with the state-level telecom committee.

Puneet Kumar Arora