India proposes relief for sector and subscribers under lockdown

India proposes relief for sector and subscribers under lockdown

India’s government, regulator, and other industry stakeholders have put forward new measures aimed at helping the country’s telecommunications sector adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has directed its Wireless Planning Commission (WPC) to provide operators with additional spectrum upon request, after the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) called for the department to enact this measure in order to safeguard service quality while making sure operators could maintain connectivity.

India implemented a nationwide lockdown on 24th March, obliging the country’s workforce to work remotely. To ensure that their networks could cope with the demand for connectivity increasing to almost double normal levels, operators have called for the DoT to make additional spectrum available to them.

According to The Economic Times, operators can submit their requirements for access and backhaul spectrum to the DoT for each of the circles that they cover. However, it has not been confirmed that any requested frequencies would be issued, or the terms that would be attached to any such allocations.

Alongside the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA), COAI has also requested that local authorities permit the use of previously sealed telecom towers, while the DoT has requested that infrastructure maintenance be allowed to continue unabated as an essential service throughout the lockdown.

The Reserve Bank of India has granted operators a three-month reprieve on certain loan arrears. Additionally, it has reduced interest rates on new borrowing, providing much-needed relief for squeezed operators. COAI welcomed the measures while pointing out that operators would not raise tariffs in response, as feared by many consumers.

With “hundreds of thousands” of workers trying to return home from India’s major cities, the country’s authorities have asked operators to suspend calling charges for migrant workers left with no source of income while the lockdown is in effect.

COAI chief Rajan Matthews noted that operators were considering the request, saying: “No business can hope to succeed without this focus on the interest of their customers first … I am sure they will consider the request carefully and work with the government to take appropriate action.”

Meanwhile the regulator TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has called on operators to increase the validity of prepaid services to allow subscribers to remain connected in the event that they are unable to purchase airtime or extend their contracts due to retail outlets shutting down.  

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