The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released its recommendations on improving telecom connectivity and infrastructure in far-flung areas of Himachal Pradesh, wherein it has recommended that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) should approach the Ministry of Defence for accessing part of its optical fibre network or suitable bandwidth to extend telecom coverage in the far-flung areas of Himachal Pradesh.

The regulator recommended that in four districts, namely, Lahaul and Spiti, Mandi, Kullu, and Chamba, the villages that are yet to be connected under BharatNet project should be immediately connected on very-small-aperture terminal (VSAT) media that can be surrendered as soon as the optical fibre cable (OFC) backhaul is made available. The identified districts have 181 uncovered villages, of which 14 are planned to be covered under the ‘354 villages scheme’ and 142 are to be covered under ‘Saturation of 4G Mobile’ scheme of Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). These schemes still leave out 25 villages from telecom coverage.

In its recommendations, TRAI has suggested that the DoT should take up with the Ministry of Defence for allocation of one or two pairs of OFC on Network for Spectrum (NFS) network for extending telecom coverage including broadband services to the villages located in far-flung or border areas in the state under BharatNet project. TRAI added that in case the same is not feasible, the ministry may be approached to allocate suitable bandwidth on its existing functional OFC to extend the telecom coverage to such villages.

Further, TRAI said that it is already in receipt of a reference on enabling intra circle roaming (ICR) for remote and hilly regions frequently prone to natural disaster-based emergency situations and it will come up with separate recommendations in this regard after due consultations.

In addition, the regulatory body has recommended that capex and opex required for providing telecom infrastructure and connectivity to the 25 uncovered villages (falling under the three revenue districts of Lahaul and Spiti, Kullu and Chamba) should be funded by the government through USOF. The authority has recommended that DoT may take up the case with the state government for not levying any right of way (RoW) charges to telecom service providers and infrastructure providers (IP-Is) for connecting remote and hilly areas in the state including all locations in four districts. It has suggested that the DoT should take up with the state government, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and Border Roads Organisation (BRO), that in all road construction, road widening or other related works should be done with prior coordination with telecom operators, and the liability of contractor for making payments for damages to telecom networks should be included ab-initio in the contracts. As per TRAI, this will help in quick roll-out of all utility infrastructure, including telecom, in the state.

TRAI has also suggested that the DoT should take up with the government of Himachal Pradesh to consider providing electricity to telecom sites within 15 days of connections request at utility or industrial tariff and consider waiving off last mile installation charges for extending electric connection to telecom sites in remote and hilly areas.