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Cable ops must be allowed to function as resellers of ISP licensees, says TRAI

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has suggested that the government must allow cable operators to function as resellers of ISP licensees so that they can take advantage of their cable network to provide broadband.

TRAI noted that cable operators/multi-system operators (MSOs) do not want to enter the broadband business as they would then have to pay 8 per cent licence fee on their adjusted gross revenue (AGR).

To provide broadband, cable operators need to acquire an ISP licence and to meet the associated licence conditions including rollout and connectivity to law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to satisfy the provisions of lawful interception and monitoring (LIM).

Cable ops must get financial support

As part of its recommendations on ‘Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?’, the authority also recommended that financial support must be provided to cable TV operators through banks/institutions and Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) so that they can provide broadband services.

It also suggested providing bandwidth at a subsidised price to operators serving underserved areas to ensure affordable broadband.

TRAI said that viable business models need to be created by encouraging entrepreneurship skills among cable operators and guiding them to handle the new business.

It also recommended that the government must lower the costs of infrastructure investment by lowering customs duty on hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) network equipment and customer premises equipment (CPE).

Digitisation timeline

While stressing that cable TV digitisation needs to be implemented in Tier II and III cities in a time-bound manner, the authority said digitisation timeline needs to be brought forward urgently if the government is serious about quick broadband delivery.

In order to expand outreach and hasten delivery of broadband, digitisation should not be further postponed under any circumstances, TRAI said.

Noting that there are 99 million households with cable TV access, which is 37 per cent of the total households in India, the authority stated that MSOs and LCOs can play an important role in the delivery of broadband.

Cable operators, the TRAI said, have an inherent strength in providing last-mile access. The sheer reach of the cable network to large number of households renders this infrastructure both amenable and ideally suited to the delivery of broadband to a large segment of the population very quickly.

Satellite broadband and ‘Open Sky’ policy

To harness satellite communications to provide broadband in far-flung areas, the authority recommended that the government take a stand on the authority’s ‘Open Sky’ policy in the next six months.

An ‘Open Sky’ will allow telecom service providers (TSP), direct-to-home (DTH) and VSAT operators access to international satellite operators as ISRO is not able to provide enough capacity.

As per industry inputs, a total of about 140+ transponders are presently available over Indian skies that can be used to provide broadband especially in regions which till now have been termed ‘technically not feasible’ (TNF).

In addition, satellite communication technology is experiencing various changes such as the use of Ka-band satellites that can provide large capacity and higher speeds.

TRAI noted that there are about 10–15 per cent areas that cannot be reached by optical fibre. Satellite communication can serve as communication solution for these areas.

“If we are serious about harnessing satellites for broadband services such a stance is simply not justifiable”, it maintained.

The authority recommended separation of licensor, regulator and operator functions in the satellite domain to conform to best international free-market practices.

The issue of coordination of additional spectrum in the 2500–2690 MHz band with DoS needs to be addressed urgently so that this band can be optimally utilised for commercial as well as strategic purposes, it said.

The authority also stated that there must be a time-bound award of licences for operating satellite services. It advocated regulating/opening of Ka-band satellites.