On 8th December 2021, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (“TRAI”) had suo-moto issued a consultation paper to undertake a holistic review of all licenses, approvals, authorisations, etc. in the Telecom and Broadcasting sectors. Previously, TRAI had undertaken consultations only with respect to the Department of Telecommunications (“DoT”) and the Ministry of Information (“MIB”) from an ease of doing business perspective. However, the current exercise undertaken by TRAI spans multiple ministries/ departments wherein the “application process, compliance process, information submission and payment process through the life-cycle of licenses have been studied”. Based on the inputs and comments received from various stakeholders, the TRAI has released its recommendations on “Ease of Doing Business in Telecom and Broadcasting Sector” on 2nd May 2023.
Broadly, the TRAI has made the following recommendations for ease of doing business in the Telecom and Broadcasting sector
An integrated end-to-end single window portal: The TRAI has recognised that the fulcrum of ‘ease of doing business’ (“EoDB”) is an end-to-end single window portal. Hence, it has recommended that all the ministries and departments involved in granting permissions, approvals, licenses to business entities should institutionalize procedure for grant of such permissions, approvals, etc. through a fully integrated online single window system. Such a system should cover the initial permission process along with all the compliances related to operational requirements such as periodic audits, testing reports, surrender of license/permission, etc. Additionally, the TRAI has also recommended that the existing single window portals of all the ministries/departments should be integrated with national single window system portal developed by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade.
Simplified application formats: The TRAI has recommended that any information sought in the application form should be relevant and any information which has no value addition to the scrutiny of the application should be removed. Furthermore, duly filled sample forms should be made available of the applicant. Furthermore, a recommendation has been made to provide an auto-save feature to the applicants while filling the application form or submitting the compliances.
Adoption of latest technologies: Adoption of technologies for online verification of documents like fetching and verifying from Digilocker, using contracts with digital signatures, hosting data related to applicants on cloud, integration with e-office, along with artificial intelligence-based tracking, analysis and response systems, etc. has been recommended by the TRAI in order to help enhance EoDB.
Deemed approvals: The TRAI has recommended that there should be clearly delineated timelines for approval/grants of relevant permissions/licenses, etc. Any breach of the stipulated timelines for approval/rejection of the application seeking permission/license should result in deemed approval of such applications.
Queries raised by the Department/Ministry: All queries raised by the respective department/ ministry regarding the application forms submitted by the applicant should be raised on the portal itself as recommended by the TRAI. Furthermore, it has recommended that such queries should be clear on the information/document being sought from the applicant and should be raised at once unless the query is arising from the applicant’s response to any earlier query.
Stakeholders’ Enquiry System: It has been recommended to all ministries/departments to institute a system which allows applicants to raise queries regarding process, mechanism, etc. at a single place in an efficient and time-bound manner. Such a system should be incorporated as a feature in the single window portal itself.
Adoption of self-declaration for compliance: The TRAI has recommended adopting self-declaration by applicants to be used by all ministries/departments wherever the extant guidelines mandate such applicants to provide affidavits for ensuring compliance with the prevailing law.
EoDB Committee: Recognising that EoDB is a continuous process, the TRAI has recommended that each ministry/department should establish an internal EoDB committee to regularly review, simplify and update the existing processes/requirements to ensure EoDB in their respective sectors. Such a committee should be headed by Additional Secretary/Joint Secretary level officers from the concerned Ministry/ Department and should also include members drawn from field/ regional offices, service providers and industry associations.
Apart from the above, the TRAI has also made the following specific recommendations for ensuring EoDB in the Telecom Sector
Demonstration of Lawful Interception Monitoring capabilities: In the case of telecom service providers, the TRAI has recommended that lawful interception monitoring demonstration of a new service in a single network by a telecom service provider should not take place in every Licensed Service Area (“LSA”)/location and should instead take place centrally at one LSA/location. In order to provide such a service, the TRAI has recommended that DoT should prescribe a nodal office where such new service uses a common network, with same technical parameters, across multiple LSAs. The nodal office of the DoT should authorize one LSA to carry out such testing and share the test report with all the other LSAs.
Blocking of websites: The Internet Service Providers are required to block internet sites/uniform resource locators/uniform resource identifiers and/or individual subscribers as per directions issued by the DoT. In order to ensure EoDB, the TRAI has recommended that the website blocking process should be incorporated on the single window portal wherein the list of websites to be blocked should be communicated to the ISPs in their secure login via an instant notification.
Import License from Wireless Planning and Coordination (“WPC”) Wing: A license is required for import of any wireless transmitter/ receiver/ transceiver which is issued by the WPC wing. The TRAI has lauded the steps being taken by WPC to simplify import license as and the customs authorities accepting only an undertaking from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for compliance with the extant mandate.
Equipment Type Approval (“ETA”) certificates: The Radio Frequency (“RF”) devices operating in the notified license exempted frequency bands and falling under ‘FREE’ category under the import policy are eligible for ETA under self-declaration. The TRAI has noted that the DoT has ensured EoDB for such products as a system generated undertaking through the SaralSanchar portal is considered sufficient for self declaration. However, RF devices operating in notified license exempted frequency band and falling under ‘Restricted’ category of the import policy are required to obtain a scrutiny-based ETA. After obtaining scrutiny-based ETA from WPC, a separate import license from WPC is also required to import such ‘restricted’ devices. Hence, the TRAI has recommended that the process of getting scrutiny-based ETA from WPC should be made online and time-bound. Additionally, the TRAI has recommended that the WPC should formulate a working group to study and exempt ETA/ Import License for devices having wireless sensors emitting very low power below a prescribed level.
Overlaps in telecom testing regime: The TRAI has noted there are numerous overlaps in the testing of telecom products such as the Compulsory Registration Scheme (“CRS”) of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (“MeitY”) and Bureau of Indian Standards (“BIS”), Mandatory Testing and Certification of Telecommunication Equipment (“MTCTE”) by Telecommunication Engineering Centre (“TEC”), ETA by WPC, security testing by National Centre for Communication Security and the issuance of trusted source/trusted products by National Security Directive in Telecom Sector. Consequently, the TRAI recommended that in order to avoid duplicity in testing of telecom products, the DoT should constitute a standing committee to identify a single testing scheme under which the product needs to be tested. Such a committee should comprise senior officials from the MeitY, DoT WPC, TEC, BIS & representatives from product manufacturers. Furthermore, the TRAI has also recommended that internal workflows should be created across processes of ETA of WPC, MTCTE of TEC and CRS of MeitY/ BIS in the respective portals of each scheme for seamless access and ease of testing of telecom products.
Mandatory Testing and Certification of Telecommunication Equipment: The TEC has notified four phases of MTCTE wherein each phase has added new products under the MTCTE scheme. The TRAI has noted that such inclusion of high volume of products in each phase, restrictive timelines for ensuring compliance with the same and deficiency of testing labs has made compliance with the same a challenging task for the OEMs. In order to ensure EoDB, the TRAI has recommended that sufficient time should be given for OEMs whenever new products are added and a new phase is notified under the MTCTE. Additionally, the TRAI has recommended that a committee should be constituted comprising of members drawn from the TEC, OEMs, service providers and consumers of the product. This committee should be mandated to prescribe the timelines for each product to meet testing and certification requirements and to revisit the mode of compliance for testing of products such as product based differential level of compliance, test report evaluation, etc.
Ensuring availability of Indian Labs andacceptance of International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (“ILAC”) reports: The TRAI noted that there is a lack of adequate labs in India for testing of products under the MTCTE scheme. Hence, it has recommended that TEC should continue accepting test results/reports from labs accredited by ILAC signatories till sufficient labs are established in India under the MTCTE scheme. Additionally, the DoT should incentivize setting up of labs in India and undertake a lab assessment before notifying new phases of MTCTE.
Compulsory Registration Scheme: To provide compliance foresight to business entities, the TRAI has recommended that MeitY, in consultation with BIS, should define stagewise timelines for registration under the CRS in respect of product certification.
We welcome the initiative by the TRAI to undertake a holistic review of the existing compliance requirements in the Telecom and Broadcasting Sector spanning across various departments. The TRAI has recognised that EoDB is a continuous process and requires the Government to regularly review various procedures/processes involved in grant of permissions/licenses to business entities as per the extant law. Consequently, the TRAI has proposed the setting up of a standing committee focused on EoDB across all ministries/department and has also exhaustively identified the various compliances that need to be undertaken by the relevant business entities. TRAI’s extensive recommendations will create and nurture conditions for growth of the Telecom and Broadcasting sectors by seeking to remove redundant compliances and creating a process-based approach for regular review of regulatory cholesterol. The Government of India should pass appropriate orders the relevant departments/ministries to expeditiously implement the TRAI’s recommendations within a stipulated timeline. Furthermore, some of the recommendations regarding deemed approval of applications, single window portal and establishment of EoDB committees within the respective ministries/department should be given statutory/regulatory backing. This will ensure that compliance with the far-reaching reforms enunciated by the TRAI and the same will not be at the discretion of the relevant department/ministry. Lastly, a mechanism for regulatory impact assessment of new regulation/rule/order should be established to ensure that no such regulation/rule/order comes into effect that militates against the objective of ensuring EoDB for business entities.
Press Release on Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s Recommendations on “Ease of Doing Business in Telecom and Broadcasting Sector” dated 2nd May 2023 – https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/PR_No.37of2023.pdf
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s Recommendations on “Ease of Doing Business in Telecom and Broadcasting Sector” dated 2nd May 2023 – https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/Recommendations_02052023_0.pdf