The unprecedented growth of India’s telecom sector has been due to the presence of a robust tower and fibre infrastructure. However, infrastructure providers often face operational challenges during tower installations and fibre roll-outs. In 2013, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) issued state governments an advisory to facilitate the installation of mobile towers and other telecom infrastructure. As of now, only a few states have specified a proper regulatory framework for telecom infrastructure deployment. In this context, the Jharkhand government’s formulation of a telecom infrastructure policy and the Rajasthan government’s release of a draft policy are welcome steps.
A look at the policies released by the two state governments…
Jharkhand Communication Towers and Related Structures Policy, 2015
To foster the development of communications and information infrastructure in Jharkhand, the state government released a new telecom infrastructure policy in December 2015. The policy considers telecom installations as lifeline installations and critical infrastructure for mobile communications. It intends to facilitate the effective transformation of the socio-economic scenario through accelerated equitable and economic growth through improved connectivity and telecom services across the state.
The policy specifies several initiatives to ease the installation of mobile towers. It provides for a single-window clearance system for all new and pending applications to install new mobile towers. It also allows mobile towers to be set up at all types of government and semi-government buildings, residential, industrial and institutional buildings, and on open lands. This will give operators and mobile service providers the much-needed resources for ensuring an uninterrupted flow of mobile telephony services.
The government has also allowed telecom service providers and infrastructure providers to share towers for deploying their respective antennas. At the national level, DoT recently amended the Unified Licence Law to allow active infrastructure sharing, including that of antennas, feeder cables, Node B, radio access networks and transmission systems.
In addition, the policy has specified charges for setting up mobile towers, including nominal registration charges of Rs 20,000 to the municipal corporation, Rs 15,000 to nagar parishads and nagar panchayats, and Rs 10,000 to panchayat samiti areas. It also states that on the receipt of an application, along with the requisite fees and documents, the concerned authority will take a decision within 60 days from the date of application. In case this is not conveyed within 60 days, the deemed permission will be assumed, provided that the same is in accordance with the prescribed rules. Meanwhile, in the case of the installation of cell on wheels (COW), formal permission is not required, provided that the COW is being placed for a maximum period of 30 days. However, if it is being installed for more than 30 days, it will be treated as a normal communication tower and formal permission will be required for the same.
To actively address public grievances related to the installation of towers and other telecom infrastructure, the Jharkhand government has constituted a state-level telecom committee (STC) and a district-level telecom committee (DTC). The DTC will convene once a month to resolve grievances in a time-bound manner. Telecom operators can also approach the DTC for addressing their issues. The DTC’s recommendations will have to be followed by the municipal authorities.
To avoid disruptions in mobile communication services due to electromagnetic field radiation (EMF) concerns, the policy says that the sealing of base transceiver stations (BTSs) and electricity disconnections will not be permitted without the consent of DoT’s Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TERM) cells.
Rajasthan Telecom Infrastructure Draft Policy, 2015
In February 2016, the Rajasthan government released a draft telecom infrastructure policy. While the policy regards mobile towers as an integral factor for providing better connectivity, it also says that the adverse impact of radiation from telecom towers is an aspect that should be considered. Thus, the policy is more restrictive in its approach as compared to the Jharkhand government’s policy and imposes several limitations with regard to mobile tower installation. As per the draft, mobile towers cannot be installed on any premises if they are 15 metres or less from the boundary of any school (excluding colleges and universities), hospital or sports ground, or within a 500 metre radius of a jail campus. They cannot be installed within a distance of 300 metres from the notified boundary of any protected monument. In the walled city and heritage areas, the poles should be designed such that there is minimum impact on the area’s heritage. The draft policy prohibits telecom infrastructure towers to be set up without the prior permission of the commissioner or executive officer in municipal areas, the secretary of the Urban Improvement Trust and development authorities in urban areas, and the subdivisional magistrate in rural areas. A no-objection certificate from the traffic police is also mandatory.
As per the draft policy, in the case of both ground-based towers and rooftop towers, operators should adhere to DoT’s radiation norms. They also have to obtain site clearance from the Standing Advisory Committee on Radio Frequency Allocation for every site from the point of view of interference with other wireless users, aviation hazards and obstruction to any other existing microwave links. The draft also mentions that for all existing as well as new BTSs/towers, telecom service providers must periodically submit self-certificates to ensure that all public areas around their sites are within the EMF exposure safety limits. The TERM cells will undertake a periodic audit of sites.
With regard to site sharing, the draft says that telecom operators may share towers for installing their respective antennas. However, they are required to adhere to the prescribed technical requirements to curtail the multiplicity of towers and optimise the use of existing ones.
The draft policy specifies a one-time registration charge of Rs 100,000 per ground-based mast (GBM) for the state capital, Rs 75,000 per GBM for divisional headquarters, Rs 50,000 per GBM for other towns with a population of more than 100,000 and Rs 25,000 per GBM for the remaining towns and rural areas of the state. In addition, operators and infrastructure providers will have to deposit annual user charges for the installation of rooftop towers, rooftop poles and ground-based towers. Damage to roads due to the erection of GBMs and laying of underground cables and the need for filling up pits will be addressed by the concerned local bodies, which will charge infrastructure providers double the rate of the restoration cost of the damaged portion.
The Rajasthan policy also provides for a DTC in each district and an STC in the state to deal with public grievances related to the installation of mobile towers and other telecom infrastructure issues.
Jharkhand’s new telecom infrastructure policy has received a positive response from industry stakeholders. It has been hailed as one of the most forward-looking telecom tower policies in the country. The Cellular Operators Association of India has said that the policy will place Jharkhand among India’s most well-connected states. The industry association has urged other state governments to implement similar conducive mobile tower policies.
Meanwhile, the response to the Rajasthan government’s draft policy has been mixed. Though the policy seeks to address radiation threats, it has included several mobile tower installation provisions that are not aligned with DoT’s 2013 guidelines. These include the restrictions on tower installation in specific buildings, the multiple documentation requirements and the high permission fees. The government has received a large number of representations from telecom operators and infrastructure providers urging it to drop some of these clauses in the final policy.