Convergence Plus
Policy & Regulation
Saturday, March 23, 2019
Thousands of Russians protest against internet restrictions

Bagged 75 contracts in India last year, most non-telecom: Nokia RUSSIA-INTERNET-Thousands of Russians protest against internet restrictions. MOSCOW: Thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow and two other cities on Sunday to rally against tighter internet restrictions, in some of the biggest protests in the Russian capital in years.

Lawmakers last month backed tighter internet controls contained in legislation they say is necessary to prevent foreign meddling in Russia's affairs. But some Russian media likened it to an online "iron curtain" and critics say it can be used to stifle dissent.

People gathered in a cordoned off ProspektSakharova street in Moscow, made speeches on a stage and chanted slogans such as "hands off the internet" and "no to isolation, stop breaking the Russian internet".

The rally gathered around 15,300 people, according to White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies. Moscow police put the numbers at 6,500.

"If we do nothing it will get worse. The authorities will keep following their own way and the point of no return will be passed", said 28-year-old protester Dmitry, who declined to give his full name.

Opposition activists said on Twitter that police had detained 15 people at the Moscow rally, confiscating their banners and balloons. Police have not announced any detentions.

The protests in Moscow, the southern city of Voronezh and Khabarovsk in the far east had all been officially authorised. A handful of activists in St. Petersburg took to the streets without the authorities' consent.

Russia has in recent years attempted to curb internet freedoms by blocking access to certain websites and messaging services such as Telegram.

February's bill passed in the Russian parliament on the first reading out of three.

It seeks to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by the state and proposes building a national Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue functioning even if the country is cut off from foreign infrastructure.

The second reading is planned in March after which, if passed, the bill will need to be signed by the upper house of the parliament and then by President Vladimir Putin.

The legislation is part of a drive by officials to increase Russian "sovereignty" over its Internet segment.

Russia has introduced tougher internet laws in recent years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store Russian users' personal data on servers within the country. (Source: ETTelecom)

TRAI to decide on rules for internet calling, messaging firms soon

TRAI to decide on rules for internet calling, messaging firms soon RS Sharma, the chairman of TRAI, said that the telecom regulator will release its recommendations on the regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) services in a couple of months. Telecom regulator TRAI will release its recommendations on the regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) services in a couple of months, its chairman RS Sharma said Tuesday.

“We already have a paper on OTT (over-the-top). We will come out with appropriate recommendations and regulations in near future, a couple of months from now,” Sharma told PTI at the Mobile World Congress 2019 here.

The telecom sector at MWC has been displaying technology and sharing their plans around 5G services. The business of 5G will be dominated by data-related business which is expected to blur differences between services provided by Internet companies and telecom service providers.

The sector has been talking about the same set of rules for companies providing similar services.

Last week, global industry body GSM Association Director General Mats Granryd said globally telecom companies should be regulated at par with Internet firms as they are planning to move beyond providing just connectivity to adopt a data-centric business model with “intelligent connectivity” with 5G coming in.

He said India is the only country that has announced to gradually end mobile call termination rates — a move that will end price arbitrage between online players providing calling and messaging service and telecom operators.

Talking about the evolution of new technologies and impact on regulatory jurisdictions, Sharma said, “Regulatory systems will continue to develop as technology develops. Our approach is regulator should not become a hindrance.”

Besides this, Sharma said all telecom operators will have to put in place blockchain based system to curb pesky call and messaging menace from March 1 and no extension will be granted to them.

Indian enterprise messaging firm Tanla Solutions announced here that it has installed the first system to stop pesky calls and messaging system as per Trai rule on Vodafone Idea network that has gone live from Tuesday onwards.

“This initiative would perhaps be the largest use case for Blockchain in the world with potential transactional volumes of above 10 billion per month. We are confident that it will empower the billion plus mobile users,” Uday Reddy, CMD, Tanla Solutions said.(Source:The Indian Express)


No yet apprised of government's decision on telecom ombudsman: TRAI to DoT

No yet apprised of government's decision on telecom ombudsman: TRAI to DoTTRAI has asked DoT to apprise it of the decision taken by the government on the said recommendations.

Regulator TRAI has written to the telecom department that it has not yet been apprised of the government's decision on the proposed grievance redressal mechanism or ombudsman for the telecom sector despite a reminder, and that the position on the same should be conveyed to it. In the letter addressed to Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) noted that officials of the Department of Telecom(DoT) informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee in a recent meeting that the government has approved a three-tier structure for resolution of consumer grievances in the telecom sector through setting up of an ombudsman.

"However, TRAI has not received any communication from the Government in this regard," the letter said.

TRAI has asked DoT to apprise it of the decision taken by the government on the said recommendations.

"It is pertinent to mention that as per TRAI Act, the Government needs to refer the matter back to the authority in case the Government has taken any view other than the recommendations made by TRAI," the regulator said. (Source:ETTelcom)

Government assures BSNL staff, urges to call off strike

Government assures BSNL staff, urges to call off strike The government expects that BSNL employees and officers would not go on strike at a time when the fourth-largest telco was striving to protect customer-base and revenue by providing uninterrupted and high-quality services.

The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government Sunday assured the agitating employees of the state-run telecom operators Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) to address their pending demands as well as initiate steps to revive the telco.

The All India Unions and Associations of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (AUAB) has called for a three-day strike starting Monday.

The department of telecom (DoT) reiterates that positive steps are being taken in respect of each of the demands, it said in a statement.

State-owned operator's groups represent nearly 100,000 workforce, and have been demanding benefits to executives under the third Pay Revision Committee (PRC) with 15% fitment and to non-executives as per the eighth wage negotiations with effect from January 2017, in addition to the revision of pension for BSNL retirees and delinking it with pay revision.

The BSNL staffers were also demanding allocation of fourth-generation or 4Gspectrum to the company which according to them would help it to compete with rivals in the hyper-competitive telecom market.

The Digital Communications Commission (DCC), the highest decision-making body the telecom sector in its February 2019 decision has referred the 4G spectrum allocation to BSNL to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

The commission has sought views on the administrative allocation, quantum, price and appropriate frequency band.

"Further action (on 4G airwaves) will be taken on receipt of the said recommendation," DoT in a statement added.

The department further said that a comprehensive proposal for revival of BSNL has been prepared, which according to it would be taken up for consideration by competent authorities very soon.

The government has also formed a coordination committee comprising of senior officers of the DoT, BSNL management, and representatives of AUAB, and urged the employees not to resort to any agitational program at the critical juncture.

The Centre expects that the BSNL employees and officers would not go on strike at a time when the fourth-largest telco was striving to protect customer-base and revenue by providing uninterrupted and high-quality services.

However, Anupam Shrivastava-headed telco has already been engaged in efforts to protect and enhance market-share in the wake of the disruptive foray of billionaire Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio, and is also working aggressively to increase its enterprise business.

BSNL had nearly 110 million wireless subscribers as of December 2018.

Some of the government's ambitious telecom connectivity programs such as in the Northeast including across Indo-China border, and in areas affected by left wing extremism (LWE) being undertaken by the state-driven telco having potential to boost its revenue are, however, yet to get department's nod.(Source: ETTelecom)

Network capacity fee not mandatory for users with multiple TV connections: TRAI

Network capacity fee not mandatory for users with multiple TV connections: TRAITRAI clarified that the network capacity fee (NCF) is not mandatory for users who have more than one TV connection in a single household, and the distribution platform can provide a discount for such connections.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has clarified that the network capacity fee (NCF) is not mandatory for subscribers who own more than one TV connection in a household. A number of Direct-to-Home (DTH) and cable TV users had raised concerns over likely high expenditure for multiple connections under new rules.

Under its new broadcast framework which came into effect starting this month, TRAI did not make it clear if subscribers would have to pay same NCF fee for each and every connection they have in a household. Now, the regulating body has clarified that the NCF is not mandatory for consumers with multiple TV connections.

“The regulation does not prohibit the service providers to offer a discount or lower network capacity fee for second or additional connections in the same location or home,” a TRAI statement said.

Commenting over the discount given on NCF by distribution platform operators, TRAI said that “such discount shall be uniform in the target market area of respective TV channel distributor” and the DPO (Distribution Platform Operator) shall declare it on their platform.”

It also clarified that the regulation, as previously stated, provides a capping of Rs 130 as NCF for 100 standard definitions (SD) channels and Rs 20 for the slab of next 25 SD channels.

While the new framework aims to reduce DTH prices by giving consumers the freedom to choose and pay only for channels they actually watch. While many consumers have reported a decrease in their monthly TV bill, a large number of consumers feel it has only escalated the bill amount.

TRAI, however, believes that DTH prices will come down in 3 months. It says that the new mandate promotes consumer choice and will also provide a fair competition among broadcasters. The regulating body says that is only after a few months of market play that real prices will be discovered. Under the new rules, consumers will also have the freedom to change their channel choice at any time, choosing to add or delete a channel from their pack. (Source: The Indian Express)

Tata Teleservices offers to surrender spectrum allocated without auction

Tata Teleservices offers to surrender spectrum allocated without auctionIn a meeting with DoT, Airtel and Tata Teleservices offered to surrender 2.5 megahertz of spectrum assigned to Tata Tele administratively in 800 Mhz band in all circles.

Tata Teleservices has offered to surrender spectrum allocated to it without auction in around 15 circles before its merger with Bharti Airtel is approved by the Department of Telecom, an official said. Spectrum in 800 Mhz band can be used for 4G services but the airwaves held by Tata Teleservices across 15-16 circles can be used for 2G services as well and these frequencies cannot be transferred to Airtel, according to rules.

"In a meeting with DoT, Airtel and Tata Teleservices offered to surrender 2.5 megahertz of spectrum assigned to Tata Tele administratively in 800 Mhz band in all circles," the official told.

Tata Teleservices is required to pay the present market rate to make the airwaves allocated without auction usable for 4G services or for transferring them to Airtel.

However, according to sources, given their debt condition, both Tata Teleservices (TTSL) and Airtel are not willing to pay the market rate of the spectrum.

The total holding of TTSL in the 800 Mhz band could not be ascertained.

TTSL has total of 178 Mhz spectrum across 800 Mhz, 1800 Mhz and 2100 Mhz bands across 19 circles, out which only 71.3 Mhz of spectrum can be transferred to Airtel without paying market rate which is calculated based on the last auction price.

Debt-ridden loss-making firm Tata Teleservices and Bharti Airtel announced their merger in October 2017. The deal is on a no-debt, no-cash basis, implying Airtel is not taking over any of the about Rs 40,000 crore debt of Tata Teleservices and is neither paying any cash.

The National Company Law Tribunal has approved the merger of Tata Teleservices with Bharti Airtel. The DoT has to give its final approval to the merger.(Source: ETTelecom)


TRAI hopeful of 90% customer on boarding by Feb 1 deadline for new tariff regime: RS Sharma

TRAI hopeful of 90% customer on boarding by Feb 1 deadline for new tariff regime: RS SharmaUp against stringent timelines, and with just days to go before the crucial switch-over, the regulator is also keeping a hawk eye on the progress made by Distribution Platform Owner (DPO) and the broadcasters in recording consumer choices. Telecom regulator TRAI is hopeful of at least 90 per cent TV vieweronboarding before the February 1 deadline for migration to the new tariff regime for broadcasting and cable services, according to Chairman RS Sharma.

Up against stringent timelines, and with just days to go before the crucial switch-over, the regulator is also keeping a hawk eye on the progress made by Distribution Platform Owner (DPO) and the broadcasters in recording consumer choices.

In an interview, Sharma told PTI that the trend recorded in the past few days – a sudden surge in recording of customer preferences by service providers – indicated that the desired figure of 100 per cent onboarding will be reached “soon”.

“It is true that initially the speed was not good, but now it has picked up in the last few days, and looking at the trend, we feel, we will be able to reach the figure of over 90 per cent by January 31…there may be 10 per cent cases where people may be travelling or not present at home,” Sharma said.

Earlier, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had stated on January 24 that close to 40 per cent of the consumers have already exercised their options.

TRAI had unveiled the new tariff order and regulatory regime for the broadcast and cable sector, which would pave the way for consumers to opt for channels they wish to view, and pay only for them. It had said every channel should be offered a la carte, with a transparent display of rates on electronic programme guide. Although TRAI had prescribed a phased roadmap for customer onboarding by players, the pace for the same was sluggish at the beginning.

The regulator has ruled out any extension of upcoming deadline, and Sharma said in some cases the operators themselves – certain association and broadcasters -- have made written submission that the timelines should not be altered.

To ensure smooth implementation and create customer awareness, TRAI has come out with advertisements, created YouTube clips and is also holding regular meetings with broadcasters, direct to home (DTH) operators and multi system operators (MSO) to review the customer choice collection progress.

“We are reviewing it on a day-to-day basis. We are also looking into apps of various DTH operators to see how customer-friendly they are for recording of viewer choices,” Sharma said.

Monthly bills of those customers who select the channels they watch will “certainly go down”, Sharma said adding that viewers should not unnecessarily hoard channels, as they will always have the option of adding it to their cart as and when they wish to watch it.

“Many a times, people buy goods they don't need today but think they will need tomorrow. Tomorrow, if they want to watch a channel they can buy it… why should they hoard the channel because it is a costly hoarding as they have to pay for it too,” he said.

TRAI last week had said in a statement that the work related to seeking consumer's choice of channels "is in full swing".

"It has also been brought to the attention of the Authority, that certain rumours and misleading information is still being circulated contending that further extension of the time period for obtaining consumer choices is under consideration. The Authority reiterates that there is no reason to consider any extension in view of the significant momentum in obtaining the choices and the assurances of all the service providers," TRAI had said. (Source:ETTelecom)

Vodafone Idea Seeks Two-Year Moratorium on Spectrum Payment

Vodafone Idea Seeks Two-Year Moratorium on Spectrum PaymentTelecom operator Vodafone Idea Ltd. has sought a two-year moratorium on annual spectrum payment of about Rs 10,000 crore, citing high debt levels and stress on the balance sheet. "The Department of Telecom has received representation from Vodafone Idea for two-years additional moratorium on spectrum payment that they procured in auction. The request is being examined and it has to be scrutinised and considered by other departments/ministries in the government before taking any decision," a senior government official told PTI.

The amount to be paid by Vodafone Idea is estimated to be around Rs 10,000 core this year.

When contacted, Vodafone Idea spokesperson said, "the telecom industry is critical to fulfilling the digital aspirations of 1.3 billion Indians. Hence, it is important for it to be financially robust with multiple operators that can offer choice to citizens, ensure healthy competition and that national assets like spectrum are valued correctly. However, India's telecom industry is currently suffering considerable financial stress and this has been extensively reported in the media.”

Vodafone and Idea have participated in five auctions that were held in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 before merging their mobile business. In five auctions, Vodafone alone had acquired spectrum worth Rs 79,343 crore, which is highest in terms of value compared to bids made by any other operator. Idea too had purchased spectrum worth Rs 63,597 crore in those auctions.

After completion of merger on Aug. 31, 2018, the spectrum payment liability is now on Vodafone Idea.

Vodafone spokesperson said in November and December 2018, the industry wrote to the government seeking urgent measures to improve its cash flow, reduce costs and regain financial strength to ensure the long-term health of the sector.

"One specific request was for the government to defer some spectrum payment obligations. Vodafone Idea supports these industry requests," the spokesperson said.

The government in March 2018 enhanced the number of annual installments for spectrum payment from 10 to 16 years to provide relief to the sector, which is reeling under the debt of around Rs 7.8 lakh crore.

Telecom operators body Cellular Operators Association of India in November again approached DoT secretary Aruna Sundararajan to seek additional two-year moratorium on payment of installments of spectrum won in auction and interest charges imposed on installments.

Similar request was submitted by industry chamber Assocham in December.

Industry bodies said that the sector has lost 42 percent revenue from sales of telecom services on quarterly basis between April-June 2016 and July-September 2018. They said the debt level on four mobile operators is at around Rs 5 lakh crore, with 60 percent of the liability is from spectrum payment obligations. They mentioned that spectrum prices discovered in 2014 to 2016 were at "world's highest spectrum auction prices", which were not the real value of the radio waves.

According to other sources in the government, while demanding relief, industry players have said that it is tough time for sustainability of business in the present situation and is a serious cause of concern as it has potential to expose Indian banks and financial institutions to high level of bad loans.

Vodafone Idea spokesperson said that the company remained optimistic about its future and the long-term outlook for the market.

"Our integration programme is ahead of plan and we expect to accrue synergy benefits two years ahead of our original expectations. Furthermore, Vodafone Idea has announced its intention to raise up to Rs 25,000 crore of equity capital and both promoter shareholders have indicated that they would contribute up to Rs 18,200 crore," the spokesperson said.

In addition, Vodafone Idea is progressing the sale of non-core tower and fibre assets to further increase financial flexibility, the spokesperson added. "All these capital raising initiatives will make the company stronger and any questions about its (Vodafone Idea) survival in the absence of the relief that has been sought from the government by the industry are totally unfounded and malicious," the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Vodafone Idea Ltd. in a regulatory filing said the board meeting will be held on Jan. 23 to consider and approve a proposal for raising funds, including through rights issue, qualified institutions placement, preferential allotment or any other mode.(Source: Bloomberg)

Do not extend deadline for implementing new FDI policy for e-commerce sector: CAIT

Do not extend deadline for implementing new FDI policy for e-commerce sector: CAITTraders’ body CAIT on Sunday urged the Commerce and Industry Ministry not to allow private labels to be sold on e-commerce marketplaces and desist from extending the February 1 deadline for implementation of the changes to FDI policy for the e-commerce sector.

In a letter to the Secretary in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) Ramesh Abhishek, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) requested him to make it explicitly clear whether private labelling or branding is allowed under the foreign direct investment (FDI) policy in the e-commerce sector.

‘Loopholes’
“It is submitted that if it (labelling) is allowed it will run contrary to the intention of the government to make e-commerce free from evils and malpractice and to provide an equal level playing field with fair competition. Such e-commerce companies will continue their ulterior motives through such loopholes as they are doing since last many years and small retailers will be killed,” CAIT alleged.

The government, earlier, had clarified that private labels were not banned from being sold on e-commerce marketplaces. One of the big players, however, stated that private labels are a small component of the business and that the government needs to address the larger issues at hand.

Private labels, often sold at lower prices, allow e-commerce companies to control quality and even offers better margins than big, established brands. Over the last few years, e-commerce players have introduced private labels across a variety of categories including apparel, home furnishing and grocery.

Large e-commerce marketplaces could approach the government seeking extension of the February 1 deadline as compliance with the recent changes would require at least 4-5 months at operational level, multiple sources said earlier.

However, in the letter to the DIPP Secretary, CAIT said it will strongly oppose any such extension. “The modus operandi of these e-commerce companies for seeking extension is to keep delaying fair execution of the policy and they may continue with their sinister designs of operating all kinds of malpractices,” it said. “Therefore, it is strongly submitted not to fall prey under malicious agenda of such e-commerce companies and no extension should be allowed under any circumstances,” the traders’ body claimed.

New rules
The government’s move to tighten norms has hit Amazon and Flipkart the hardest as the new regulations bar online marketplaces with foreign investment to sell products of companies where they hold stakes as well as ban exclusive marketing arrangements.

Another provision states that the inventory of a vendor will be seen as controlled by a marketplace, if over 25 per cent of the vendor’s purchases are from the marketplace entity, including the latter’s wholesale unit.

The move is aimed at ensuring that the marketplace entity or its related companies cannot control inventory under the FDI rules. (The Hindubusiness Line)

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