Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Ministry of Communications with TAIPA, ICRIER and COAI as a part of its nationwide State Government outreach programme to achieve goals of National Digital Communications Policy 2018 today concluded its first chapter of awareness workshop with Southern State Authorities (Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, A&N Island and Lakshadweep Island). The workshop discussed about Broadband Readiness Index (BRI) for states, Right of Way issues, implementation and utilisation of BharatNet, connectivity to uncovered villages, issues of alleged Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Emission from mobile towers and role of DoT LSA in States/UTs in implementation of various programs of DoT and coordination with State Authorities.
The workshop was presided by Shri Anshu Prakash, Secretary (Telecom), DoT alongwith Shri K. Shanmugam, Chief Secretary, Tamil Nadu, Sh. Chetan B. Sanghi, Chief Secretary, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and other senior officers from Department of Telecom and State/UT Governments. The workshop also attended by various stakeholders such as Infrastructure Providers (IP-1), Telecom Service Providers, State Governments, Union Territories, local authorities and municipal corporations from Southern States of India. During inauguration Sh T.R. Dua, DG, TAIPA, Sh. Rajat Kathuria, CEO, ICRIER and Sh. R.S. Matthews, DG, COAI gave introductory remarks.
During this first regional level workshop, which is an outreach programme of Government of India, it was informed that the telecom sector is the backbone for achieving various pillars of Digital India programme and has a multiplier effect for the various sectors of the economy. The rapid strides made in the telecom sector were detailed, namely: the growth in number of telecom connections by 25% during last five years with 1186 million connections, increase in tele-density to 90.11 %, Internet connections grew by 2.5 times with 636.73 million internet connections in five years and with data consumption of 9.8 GB per subscriber per month, which is highest in the world which has been facilitated by one of the lowest data tariff.
Mobile connectivity to the remaining inhabited uncovered villages (around 27,000) is being funded by the Department through Universal Service Obligation Fund (BharatNet, LWE Phase II, NE connectivity, Island connectivity etc). All villages will be provided mobile connectivity by the 75th year of India’s independence (2022).
The workshop clearly brought out the role of States/UTs to improve digital connectivity and infrastructure throughout the country. It was agreed that for India’s transition to a digitally empowered economy and society, fulfilling the information and communications needs of citizens and enterprises, and bridging the digital divide, State Governments and Union Authorities are fundamental to make it a reality.
It was informed that Broadband Readiness Index (BRI) for States and UTs is being developed in order for States/UTs to attract investments and to address ROW challenges. The index will not only evaluate a state’s relative development but will also allow for better understanding of a state’s strengths and weaknesses that can feed into evidence-based policy making Such an exercise will provide useful insights into strategic choices made by States for investment allocations in their ICT programmes. It was informed that BRI is being developed by ICRIER along with the support of DoT, state administrations and industry associations.
During discussions it was informed by Telecom Service Providers and Infrastructure Providers that they are facing various challenges such as locational restrictions, multiplicity of policies, shutting down/sealing/demolition of operational sites, alleged fear of EMF emissions from BTSs mounted on mobile towers, exorbitant charges and retrospective implementation of tower installation policies within a state etc due to which conducive development of the telecom infrastructure is seriously hindered. In order to address these issues, Department of Telecom asked States/UTs to implement the Right of Way Rules, 2016. It was noted that adoption of the Rules at the state/UT level needs to be ensured for timely approval and charging of prescribed fees and setting up of online portal.
While highlighting the issue of Right of Way, Mr. Tilak Raj Dua, Director General, TAIPA said, “Today, the telecom infrastructure industry is wedged with various challenges such as locational restrictions, multiplicity of policies, shutting down/sealing/demolition of operational sites, alleged fear of EMF emissions from BTSs mounted on mobile towers, exorbitant charges and retrospective implementation of tower installation policies within a state etc due to which conducive development of the telecom infrastructure is seriously hindered. In order to eliminate these issues, Ministry of Communications notified Right of Way rules dated 2016 which have enabling provisions to facilitate provisioning of telecom infrastructure across the nation. There are only 13 states which have broadly aligned their policies while the adoption of said rules remains a challenge at the State level. For any technology whether it is 4G, 5G, AR, VR or AI etc. it is fundamental to develop a robust telecom infrastructure for triggering the humungous potential of Digital India, Smart City and Financial inclusion etc. Further, considering the data consumption trend and with 5G, network densification is utmost important for the industry to deliver a world class telecommunications experience.”
As part of BharatNet project, the last mile connectivity, through Wi-Fi or any other suitable broadband technology is being provided at all the GPs in the country. It was informed that throughout the country more than 1.3 lakh Gram Panchayats have been connected. However, utilization of BharatNet remains a concern. States/UTs were requested to optimally utilize the infrastructure and use the high speed broadband to connect various development institutions (Health and Wellness Centers, schools) and Police stations in villages on priority.
As part of awareness and educational exercise Department informed that Electro Magnetic Field (EMF) standards for mobile towers in India are ten times stricter than those prescribed by international body. Various studies and research, till date, have revealed that there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health. In order for public to get information about any mobile towers EMF the Department has developed a Tarang Sanchar (https://tarangsanchar.gov.in), a web portal for Information sharing on Mobile Towers and EMF Emission Compliances.
In order to strengthen Department work with State/UTs on telecom issues it was informed that for co-ordination, monitoring and implementation of projects, DoT units (LSAs) works closely with the State Authorities & Telecom Industry. The States/UTs were urged to form State level Co-ordination Committee on Telecom matters with participation of LSA for all telecom related matters.