The Telecom Commission (TC), the highest decision-making body in the communications ministry, is scheduled to meet on February 21where it may take up the regulator’s recommendations on net neutrality and allocation of spectrum in two bands that would underpin 5G rollouts, senior officials said.
The recommendations from the inter-ministerial group (IMG) to improve the health of the sector, approved by the TC a month ago, would be taken to the Cabinet in the next couple of weeks, one of the officials said. A Cabinet note on the subject has already been circulated.
“We will take up the regulator’s recommendations on the E&V bands on February 21,” telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan told ET.
Spectrum in E band (71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz) and V band (57-64 GHz) would inter-connect mobile towers and could spare telecom operators the trouble of laying optical fibre cables, helping them provide last-mile connectivity. Data through E and V band can be transmitted with a speed of around 1,000 MB per second.
Experts say 5G deployment will also need airwaves in these two bands for offloading data traffic while the proliferation of fibre optic-based network for mobile backhaul remains low.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had recommended that E band spectrum be charged at .`10,000 a year per slot of 250 MHz each and that there should be an initial promotional discount of 50% for three years from the date of allocation of the first carrier in this band. For spectrum in V band, Trai had recommended that it be charged at .`1,000 per annum per slot of 50 MHz each. DoT was reportedly planning to allocate spectrum in the bands through auctions instead but is yet to take a final call.
Part of the deliberations may also be on the net neutrality recommendations made by the regulator, where it backed principles of a free and open internet and prohibited discriminatory treatment of content and practices such as blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.
It, however, allowed fast lanes for specialised services that DoT must define, and permitted telcos to use traffic management practices to maintain the quality of service. It also kept ‘content delivery networks’ out of the ambit of net neutrality. “TC could take up the net neutrality recommendations in the next meeting,” another senior official said.
He added that Trai’s recommendations allowing airlines to offer voice and data services during flights within Indian airspace will also be taken to the TC, but after two months, as the departments of space and civil aviation will be involved in issuing the final guidelines.
The official also added that the Cabinet’s approval on the IMG’s recommendations is expected within the next couple of weeks. “The note has been floated, and it is being internally circulated for discussion within ministries. So, probably, the approval may come next week,” he added.
The IMG suggested giving a one-time option to carriers to make annual payments for spectrum bought in auctions over 16 years rather than 12 years at present. It had also suggested a reduction in interest rate on penalties.
A call on the recommendations is eagerly awaited by the telecom industry that is battling a debt pile of .`7.7 lakh crore, with tariffs headed south amid intensifying competition.