With 5G rollout imminent and right of way issues among a number of factors that could potentially delay it, this is probably a good time for India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to launch a portal that is intended to act as a single-window clearance for tracking the status of right of way applications.
According to TeleGeography's CommsUpdate, the portal offers a single interface for ISPs, mobile operators and infrastructure providers to apply for right of way (RoW) approvals for installing infrastructure – fibre, towers and the like – from various agencies and authorities, including state and local bodies.
Called Sugam Sanchar, the centralised RoW portal aims to streamline and accelerate the application process and to promote the development of telecommunications infrastructure nationwide.
The dashboard of the portal lets viewers know what is pending at state and district level as well as overall. In fact India’s Economic Times news service says 33 state or union territories had been onboarded on the portal by the start of this week and the DoT had received over 53,000 applications, more than half of which it has approved, although some 14,771 applications have been rejected and 8,042 are pending. In addition some 2,576 have been reverted, presumably meaning returned until more information is supplied, though this has not been made clear.
DoT sees this portal as a robust mechanism to achieve its goal of Broadband to All as envisaged in the National Digital Communication Policy-2018. And of course the DoT published draft policy guidelines (which included the portal) to bring consistency to right of way-related procedures across states less than a month ago.
The next plan is for the Centralised RoW Portal to be integrated with the Central ROW Portals of other ministries and departments.
All this activity is, apparently, a response to the slow installation of digital infrastructure across India, caused, in part, by inconsistency and uncertainty about policies and application processes. The question remains, however, whether this activity will also incentivise the various authorities on the ground to speed up the approval process.
The GSMA commented on multiple challenges at ground level in rolling out infrastructure in October 2020, and, with a whole new generation of mobile connectivity on the way, ensuring fast rollout that can in turn enable revenue-earning services will be a very important consideration for operators.