The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has rejected the Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT) call to extend the licencing norms applicable to internet service providers (ISPs) and virtual network operators (VNOs) to the newly proposed category of public data office aggregators (PDOAs).

According to TRAI, the move would hinder PDOAs’ ability to deliver affordable public Wi-Fi services and boost broadband penetration.

In its response to DoT’s back reference recommendations on public Wi-Fi services issued in March 2017, TRAI said that asking PDOAs to operate under a VNO-ISP licence, which is designed to regulate integrated ISPs, would defeat the whole purpose of this exercise, and kill innovation at initial stage. Thus, expressing its disagreement with DoT’s proposal of granting a UL (VNO-ISP) license to a PDOA. Further, the TRAI added that the current licencing rules for VNOs/ISPs are too complex and implementing them on PDOAs would also automatically discourage startups, app developers and small shop owners to set up public Wi-Fi hotspots.

The sector regulator has also objected to DoT’s suggestion of restricting operations of PDOAs to the district level, saying such a move would be unjustified and would also make implementation of the proposed Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI) framework commercially unfeasible, and cumbersome. As per TRAI, the WANI framework improves security of communication and reduces risk of intrusion.

In addition to that, TRAI has also opposed DoT’s call to impose a licence fee of Re 1 per annum on PDOAs via the revenue sharing model. Noting that it had clearly recommended that entities registered as PDOAs under the WANI framework need not pay any fees on a revenue share basis. This, it said, was since licenced telcos and ISPs would be providing internet connectivity to PDOAs on commercial rates and pay the due amount of licence fee to the government on revenue realised from this connectivity.