India: TRAI's Recommends On Encouraging Data Usage In Rural Areas Through Provisioning Of Free Data (Technology, Media And Telecommunication: October 2016 - December 2016)

TECHNOLOGY, MEDIA AND TELECOMMUNICATION

TRAI's recommends on encouraging data usage in rural areas through provisioning of Free Data

Data providing operators include a host companies in India. Data Services vary from Mobile Data to Broadband services to providing Wi-Fi services. Companies' part of these includes big mobile operators such as Vodafone, Airtel & Idea and other operators such as Reliance, MTNL, BSNL, etc. All of these companies are actually governed by the rules & regulations of TRAI. One of the main aims of TRAI currently is to provide free data in rural & remote areas.

For this certain recommendations have been put forward. Firstly, TRAI has given a 100mb access service free to users in these areas for using internet services. The meet this implementation, the cost is to be taken out of the USOF. For this, to increase participation, other third party aggregators needed to be introduced to facilitate schemes which were TSP-Agnostics and non-discriminatory in implementation. The other thing they think they are focusing on is to provide these service to handset which do support internet services but are not smart phones since a majority of people in these areas don't or cannot afford smart phone.

The introduction of schemes for the provisions of free data services into the Indian telecom market would create the benefits in terms of Greater digital inclusion, Increased spend on telecommunication services and innovation in content and services and would thus help in narrowing the gap between the rural & urban areas in digital space.

Licensing Framework for Audio Conferencing, Audiotex, Voice Mail Services

TRAI received a reference from DoT on January 19, 2016 for review of the terms & conditions for issue of fresh licenses for Voicemail/ Audiotex/ UMS and for migration of existing licenses. Keeping in view the changes in technology and the resultant new user applications and services, there was a need to review different aspects of licensing and as a result recommendations were given.

The features of these recommendations include a new chapter for authorisation titled 'Audio-Conferencing/ Audiotex/ Voice Mail Services' keeping the earlier Access service licenses to also provide these services. The operating condition clauses of the existing license service should be made part of the Unified Licenses. There should not be standalone licenses for Unified Messaging Services. The UMS service should be provided with Access Service authorization or Internet Service authorization under Unified Licenses.

TRAI has recommended these steps with an option for existing services to migrate to the UL. There should not be any mandatory migration as per the guidelines for the new regime. But they have introduced an 8% license fee for existing license who do not migrate to the UL.

TRAI on Net Neutrality

TRAI has released its most comprehensive consultation paper yet on the issue of net neutrality, the principle that seeks equal access to all Internet content, emphasizing the need for Internet service providers to not misuse existing Internet traffic management techniques to discriminate.

In the past year or so, TRAI has issued two papers on various aspects of net neutrality without taking a final view. TRAI outlined two approaches to traffic management.

"First, a broad approach which involves defining what would constitute 'reasonable' traffic management practices. Second approach would be a narrow approach, which would limit itself to a negative list of non reasonable traffic management practices," it said. "Thus, a discussion on net neutrality must be.

It stressed on the importance of a broader understanding of net neutrality among authorities, saying it is "important to identify core principles of net neutrality for India and the types of practices that might be regarded as being in violation of these core principles". This new consultation paper basically has recommendations on provisioning of free data.

The main highlight was that "There can be two policy/regulatory approaches to achieve this end. First, a broad approach which involves defining what would constitute 'reasonable' traffic management practices. Further, this reference to reasonable management of 'Internet traffic' also brings into question the treatment of specialized/ managed services that are delivered using IP but do not serve the same functionality as the public Internet; or those that may require a level of quality that cannot be guaranteed on the Internet,"

Consultation Paper on Captive VSAT CUG policy

TRAI on recommendation from DoT dated on March 16 2016 and on the basis of the this DoT sought these recommendation of TRAI on minimum License Fee in respect of 2nd Hub in Captive VSAT CUG network and terms and conditions of Captive VSATCUG License.

The TRAI paper has also sought industry views on whether licence fee for a second VSAT hub, (being used independently or for redundancy purposes) should be the same as the first VSAT hub, and also the quantum of per annum fee for the second hub. At present, the licence fee stands at Rs 10,000 per annum per VSAT earth stations installed, in case of the first hub. But in case the licensee wants to put second hub for geographical redundancy or, say, operational diversity and if that second hub station remains commissioned, a minimum license fee of Rs 16 lakh per annum for up to 100 captive VSATs is applicable in addition to the license fee payable for the first hub.

The Authority further consulted some of the Captive VSAT licensees, who brought out some additional issues related to applicability of Royalty charges and delay in approvals in augmentation of bandwidth for Captive VSAT. It has decided to include these issues also for the consultation of the stakeholders, so as to provide comprehensive recommendations on issues concerning captive VSAT licensees.

Consultation on Model for Nation-wide Interoperable & Scalable Public Wi-Fi Network

Realizing the importance of public Wi-Fi networks as complementary to existing landline and cellular mobile infrastructure in improving broadband penetration and adoption in the country, the TRAI released a consultation paper on "Proliferation of Broadband through Public Wi-Fi Networks" on 13th July 2016. This is a major step towards the Digital India initiative.

A few of the important issues pointed out in the consultation paper for a successful, scalable and sustainable public Wi-Fi infrastructure in the country include (i) technical interoperability and seamless connectivity of Wi-Fi networks (ii) innovative payment, commercialization, and monetization models; and (iii) collaborative partnerships between various entities of the ecosystem.

With the use of Wi-Fi, there could be many improvements in internet market such as providing better in-building coverage, mobile data offload thus relieving capacity in the macro cellular networks which use the scarce licensed spectrum & possible ubiquitous seamless Internet.

Digitally Safe Consumer Campaign By Google

Google has teamed up with the Ministry of Consumer Affairs in India to launch a country-wide 'Digitally Safe Consumer' campaign in order to raise awareness and protect consumer interest on the internet. As part of the campaign, Google will work on educating consumer organisations in India, help in training members of the Consumer Affairs department, and also work with officials in the National Consumer Helpline.

Google will start rolling out this year-long campaign in January 2017, and it will work towards organizing 'Digital Literacy, Safety & Security' workshops. Google will rely on the 'Train the Trainer' model for this exercise, and plans to train around 500 people, including 250 consumer organizations across the country.

The educational campaign will also feature write ups, posters, interactive quizzes and audio-visuals that will help educate users about the challenges of Internet safety and security.

TRAI's Consultation on the Review of the Regulatory Framework for Interconnection

The Authority is undertaking a review of the existing regulatory framework for interconnection with the ultimate objective of facilitating effective and expeditious interconnection between TSPs in a consultative manner. The main objectives of the consultation paper dated October 21, 2016, for review of the Regulatory framework are following:

  • Laying Down Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory Terms and Conditions for Interconnection Agreement between telecom service providers (TSPs), in view of the technological, market, licensing, regulatory and legal developments in the telecommunication services sector in India since 2002
  • Whether it is appropriate to mandate only those TSPs who hold significant market power (SMP) in a licensed service area to publish their Reference Interconnect Offers (RIOs)? If yes, what should be the criteria for reckoning a TSP as SMP? If no, what could be the other approaches to streamline the process of interconnection in a fair, reasonable and non discriminatory manner?
  • What should be the framework to ensure timely provisioning/ augmentation of E1 ports and its various aspects?
  • What should be the time-frame for entering into interconnection agreement when a new TSP with a valid telecom license places a request for interconnection to an existing TSP?
  • Whether interconnection and interconnection agreement should be service-specific or service-agnostic (i.e. a TSP can send any type of traffic on a point of interconnection which is allowed under the terms and conditions of the license given to it)? What are the advantages/ disadvantages of having service specific POIs when the TSPs are equipped with call data record (CDR) based billing systems?

TRAI's recommends Penalty of INR 50 Crores on Vodafone, Airtel and Idea

The regulator received various letters containing complaints from the new entrant Reliance Jio providing details of inadequacies of E1 ports from the three incumbent TSPs. i.e. Vodafone, Airtel and Idea. To resolve the issue in hand TRAI wrote letters to the three incumbent operators to justify and explain their position, to which the three TSPs along with COAI responded stating that they are in no position, by way of network resources or financial resources to terminate the volumes of traffic Reliance Jio which are markedly asymmetric also mentioning that their members are not obliged to entertain interconnect requests which are derived from abnormal induced traffic patterns that game the IUC regime and are anti-competitive in nature.

In furtherance of this show cause notices were also issued to the three TSPs, asking as to why actions under the provisions of TRAI Act, should not be initiated against them for violation of the provisions of License Agreements and the Standards of QoS of Basic Telephone Service (Wireline) and Cellular Mobile Telephone Service Regulations, 2009. The TSPs further responded on the grounds/reasons which did not appeal the Authority and it rejected them as non- tenable. The Authority was of the view that the TSPs are in non-compliance of the terms and conditions of the license agreement and denial of interconnection to Reliance Jio appears to be with ulterior motive to stifle the competition, anti-consumer and against public interest. TRAI in a strongly worded recommendation letter dated October 21, 2017 stated that such non-compliance of the terms and conditions of the license warrants recommendations for revocation of the license, however mindful of the fact that such revocation would lead to great inconvenience to the consumers, they would recommend a penal action of Rs. 50 Crores per LSA wherever the POI congestion exceeded the allowable limit.

TRAI issued consultation on draft regulations [the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection (Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2016

As part of the consultative process, the draft Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable Services) Interconnection (Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2016 has been uploaded on the TRAI's website. The basic principles of non-exclusivity, non- discrimination, transparency, level playing field and fair completion have been retained in these draft regulations. Some of the new features of the draft regulations are as follows:-

  • A common interconnection framework for all addressable systems namely DTH, HITS, DAS and IPTV.
  • "Must carry" provision for all addressable systems, on first come first serve basis. DPOs to publish information about its platform including available capacity and declare the rate of carriage fee.
  • No carriage fee is to be paid by a broadcaster if the subscription of the channel is more than or equal to 20% of the subscriber base.
  • The rate of carriage fee has been capped at 20 paisa per channel per subscriber per month. Further, the carriage fee amount will decrease with increase in subscription.
  • The distributors of TV channels may offer discounts on the carriage fee rate declared by them not exceeding 35% of the rate of the carriage fee declared.
  • The interconnection agreements to be signed in accordance with the Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO).
  • Broadcaster to offer to a distributor, a minimum of 20% of the maximum retail price of its pay channel(s) or bouquet(s) of pay channels as distribution fee. They may also offer discounts on the maximum retail price provided that the sum of discounts and distribution fee in no case shall exceed 35% of the maximum retail price, so declared.

Guidelines for TSPs for ensuring transparency and uniformity in the process of tariff recharges, payments through Third Party Apps, Websites

The industry regulator TRAI with an objective to ensure transparency and uniformity in the process of tariff recharges, payments through Third Party Apps, Websites (Channel partners) to the subscribers, issued the following guidelines to the TSPs providing access services or internet services;

  • There should not be any difference in the features of tariff products and the benefits available on the TSP's website and Channel partner's website(s)/apps(s). a mechanism should be introduced by the TSPs where a new tariff product or any change in any tariff product is concurrently updated on Channel Partner's website(s)/app(s). Only after ensuring updation of such tariff product(s) on Channel Partner(s), tariff product should be made live for the subscribers.
  • TSPs should ensure and direct the Channel Partner(s) that any agreement between Channel Partner and Sub- Channel partner(s) should include suitable clauses on subscriber relations, attending subscriber grievances, recharge process and tariff updation apart from other technical requirements and guidelines as contained in the agreement between the TSP and Channel Partner. Since Channel Partner(s) and Sub-Channel Partner(s) are non-licensed entities and are appointed by the TSPs based on mutually agreed terms and conditions, all responsibilities for ensuring compliance of terms and conditions of the license agreement and other regulatory guidelines shall remain with the TSP.
  • Any new tariff product or any change in an existing tariff product should be made live only at midnight (between 00:00 Hrs and 02:00 Hrs) on the date of the launch or change in tariff product.

TRAI on mobile banking (USSD channel)

TRAI in its notification brought in the November laid down few amendments for revising the ceiling tariff. TRAI vide Telecommunication Tariff (Sixty First Amendment) Order dated on November 22, 2016 has inserted to the principle tariff order, for revising the ceiling tariff downwards for USSD based Mobile Banking and Payment Services and other related aspects. The Mobile Banking (Quality of Service) (Amendment) Regulations is being issued increasing the maximum number of stages for completing a mobile banking transaction from 5 to 8.

The Authority was of the view that a ceiling tariff of Rs. 0.50 per USSD session for mobile banking and payment service (which may comprise of one or more banking transaction as per agreement between bank/bank agent) would be reasonable to compensate the TSPs, regardless of whether the session results in a successful or a failed banking transaction, to meet the expenses incurred in the use of USSD for mobile banking service.

The Authority through this decided that usage of USSD channel should be allowed for offering payment services to all the authorized entities regulated under the Payments and Settlement Act, 2007 of RBI and payments being received on Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS).

Consultation paper on 'Spectrum, Roaming and QOS related requirements in Machine-To-Machine (M2M) Communications'

Keeping in view the exponential evolution in the digital space and the growing importance of machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity, TRAI had issued a consultation paper on the matter inviting views from stakeholders. This paper is TRAI's response to query raised by Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which on January 5, 2016. M2M communication has potential to bring substantial social and economic benefits to governments, citizens, end-users and businesses through increase in productivity and competitiveness, improvements in service delivery, optimal use of scarce resources as well as creation of new jobs.

DoT envisaged the recommendation of TRAI on three aspects related to M2M communications; M2M spectrum requirements; M2M roaming requirements; and quality of service in M2M services. Apart from the specific issues referred by DoT through the reference, the authority realized that certain other regulatory aspects, including policy and licensing framework for M2M service providers, various technical challenges in implementation, allocation and utilization of various network codes, data protection, and privacy issues also need to be deliberated.

Therefore, these issues have also been included in this consultation paper for comments/inputs of the stakeholders. The consultation paper questioned the framework for introduction of M2M Service providers in the sector. The further questions was that whether the amendment in the existing licenses of access service/Internet Service Provider license and/or licensing authorization in the existing Unified License and UL (Virtual Network Operators) license or should it be kept under Other Service Providers category registration. The paper also sought opinion about the quantum of spectrum required to meet the M2M communications, keeping a horizon of 10-15 years.

Unified Licensing guidelines and amendments (WOL)

The amendment in brought in the provision of Right to use the spectrum and frequency assignment by the licensor in public interest. The amended clause personifies that the License agreement does not confer any right to assignment and use of spectrum for which separate specific Frequency Assignment shall be required from Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) Wing of the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications & IT which will permit utilization of appropriate frequencies/band for the establishment, maintenance and operation of wireless elements of Telecom Service, under specified procedure, terms and condition. This will include payment of the assignment and the right to use spectrum prescribed by WPC Wing from time to time.

The provision also lies down that the Licensee has to obtain, among others, site clearance from WPC in respect of fixed stations and its antenna mast. For this purpose the Licensee shall separately apply online on WPC wing. The procedure and instructions provided in by the order should be abided by the licensee and the service providers. This specific amendment is applied only to ASPs (Access Service Providers) under Unifies License and the existing related clauses are applicable to other services mention in UL as well.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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