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Trai unveils easier regulations for submarine cable landing stations

Two categories of CLS recommended for easing the setting up of facilities

Trai increases mobile Internet data packs validity to 1-year from 90 days

Subhayan Chakraborty New Delhi

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In a move to ease the rules for setting up submarine (undersea) cable landing stations (CLS) in India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has released its recommendations on the licensing framework and regulatory mechanism for the sector.

On Tuesday, Trai recommended amending the existing system of permits to include two categories of CLS locations. These include the main facility and the fibre distribution point, known as the ‘point of presence’ (PoP) in the industry.

It has called for the international long distance/Internet service provider category-A (ILD/ISP-A) rules to be changed. This will enable licensees to get access, and extend their owned or leased dark fibre pair(s) in the undersea cable from the main CLS to their respective CLS-PoP location.

However, owners of CLS-PoPs will be required to fulfil all other security and regulatory/licence obligations. These include reporting requirements.
It has also called on the government to give all CLS-related operations (including associated activities such as layout, maintenance and repair of subsea cable systems) the status of essential services. This is owing to their critical role in the nation’s high-speed data architecture.
In an important move, Trai has said that a section should be added in the upcoming Telecom Bill to promote, protect and prioritise ‘CLS’ and ’submarine cable’ in India.

It has also recommended that Indian entities be facilitated and incentivised for setting up ‘cable depots’. It stressed that undersea cable and CLS be considered a critical asset.

Damage to sub-sea infra has been recommended to be considered as damage to critical infrastructure of national importance, and is to be strictly dealt under the Indian laws.
“Trai’s recommendations crucially recognise submarine cables as critical assets and provision protective measures for them. They also encourage self-reliance, while focusing on enhancing efficiency and security,” said SP Kochhar, director-general at telecom industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (Coai). 

By the end of 2022, there were 15 international subsea cables landing in 14 distinct cable landing stations in five cities across India. These were in Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Tuticorin and Thiruvananthapuram, according to Submarinenetwork.com, an industry news website.
Undersea cable operators have massively increased their total activated capacity in India, which surged nine times between 2016 and 2021.

The full traffic-carrying capability, called lit capacity, and the activated capacity on these international subsea cables were 123.87 tera bytes per second (tbps) and 83.8 tbps, respectively, by end-2021.
“Trai’s recommendations herald a new era for big data, global tech companies, data centres and content delivery networks, among others. With focus on promoting the laying of submarine cables and addressing ambiguities in the legal and regulatory framework for CLS and licences, these entities may be able to unlock the full potential of cross-border data flow. It will fuel innovation and fortify India’s position as a data powerhouse,” said Harsh Walia, partner at legal firm Khaitan & Co.

The recommendations may foster collaboration between submarine consortiums and telecom service providers in India. It may bring the much-needed clarity on ownership of CLS, he added. These include connectivity of terminal equipment to PoPs and power feeders, domestic submarine cables, stub cables and vessel repair.

The industry now awaits the adoption of these recommendations into the legal and regulatory framework.

NUMBERS GAME

Cable Landing stations in India operated by;

Tata communications (5),
Bharti Airtel (3)
Global Cloud eXchange (formerly Reliance Globalcom) (2)
Reliance Jio (2),
BSNL (1)
Vodafone idea (1)
Sify Technologies (1)

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First Published: Jun 20 2023 | 8:36 PM IST

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