The telecom department on Friday met telcos and associations to discuss critical issues around business continuity of communication networks, as industry sought the government's intervention for allowing movement of essential field staff and sought other waivers to keep services up-and-running amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Representatives from industry bodies like COAI and Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) as well as telecom operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio and state-owned telcos attended the meeting called by senior telecom department officials.
"We are grateful to the DoT for convening a meeting today (Friday) to address various issues highlighted by the industry in the light of challenges faced by the industry relative to COVID-19. The DoT was clear that they were keen to work with the industry to ensure our networks remained available 99.99 per cent of the time and customers were not inconvenienced, especially those operating now from their homes," Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) Director General Rajan Mathews told PTI.
The industry is also pitching for additional spectrum both access and backhaul microwave on a temporary basis to augment capacity given that bigger data pipes will be needed as people work from home.
The industry has urged DoT to issue directions to states that telecom be treated under essential services and, accordingly, staff and engineers have access to network operations centres, data centres and other critical sites in the event of any lockdown.
In a letter to DoT on Friday, COAI urged the Department of Telecommunications "to also instruct term cells to provide necessary relaxations to telecom service providers".
It has also sought waiver on compliance-related issues saying all audits, including licence and security audits, should be cancelled till the situation stabilises.
"While the operators comply to the requirement put forth by DoT on a day-to-day basis, the audit to ascertain the level of compliance can be put on hold for the time being considering the restrictions in place," COAI said.
Minimum roll-out obligation timelines should also be extended for at least six months, it said noting that submission for such compliance involves getting maps of district and block headquarters, due testing in field and getting self-certificates prepared for testing.
On the subscriber verification-related matters, COAI said tele-verification by the employees should be exempted for the time being as the same will be impacted due to temporary suspension of call centre operations.
"DoT may consider tele-verification to be carried out through interactive voice response only in the interim," it said.
It has also pressed for digital acquisition process where documentation is collected in scanned format instead of physical hard copy. At the same time, it has flagged issues related to interconnection and quality of service, and urged for waiver in regulator's quality of service compliance for the duration of any lockdown.
COAI has also told DoT that heads of oil companies should be requested to ensure availability of diesel to telecom towers on a priority basis and that power distribution companies should be urged to ensure round-the-clock power availability.
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