Telecom regulator Trai on Tuesday suggested the government to grant critical infrastructure status to the submarine cable landing station and accord essential service status to the repair service of the cables.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) recommended the Department of Telecom to form a committee to work on different financial viability models for India Flagged Repair Vessels, including possible incentives from the government as there are no such domestic entities available to handle repair work of submarine cables.
Submarine cables connect India and other countries with global internet services and their demand has been
"The Authority recommends that, given the importance of SMC systems for connectivity as well as security of the country, CLS operations along with its associated activities such as layout, maintenance and repairs of Submarine Cables should be accorded ‘Essential Services’ status," Trai recommended.
The regulator has also recommended that considering the submarine cable and CLS as a critical asset, a section should be added to the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, to promote, protect and prioritise ’Cable Landing Station’ and ’submarine cable’ in India.
"Also, the damage to sub-sea infra should be considered as damage to Critical Infrastructure of national importance and be strictly dealt under the India laws," Trai said.
According to the regulator, the DoT should coordinate with the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) for notifying these services as ‘Critical Information Infrastructure’ (CII).
The DoT should approach the Finance Ministry for creating special provisions towards goods and items used in the SMC system, including repairs -- such as power feeding equipment, line monitoring equipment, EMS server etc for exemption from custom duty and GST that is payable on the total value of works contract services, it added.
The recommendations from Trai have come in response to a reference sought by the DoT on issues around the laying and repairing of SMC and CLS.
The DoT raised concern about Indian ILDOs (international long-distance operators) who do not have any stake in the consortium owning submarine cable, but they are seeking Home and Defence Ministry clearance on behalf of the cable consortiums for laying/maintaining such cables and applying for setting up of CLS for such submarine cables.
Trai recommended that entities with ILD (International Long Distance or ISP Category 'A' authorisation (with International Internet Gateway) license should be amended to include two categories of Cable Landing Station (CLS) locations – Main CLS and CLS Point of Presence (CLS-PoPs).
"The Owner of the Main CLS would be required to seek all the permissions/ clearances related to the SMC landing in their CLS in India. They will also be required to inform Licensor/TRAI about all CLS-PoP locations and their owners," Trai said.
The regulator suggested that the ILD or ISP Category ‘A’ (with International Internet Gateway) licensees should be allowed to get access and extend their owned or leased dark fibre pair(s) in the submarine cable from the main CLS to their respective CLS-PoP location.
"The Authority recommends that any ILD or ISP Category ‘A’ authorization (with International Internet Gateway) Licensee who applies for seeking permissions for establishing main Cable Landing Stations (CLS) should submit an undertaking that they own and control the asset in Indian Territorial Waters (ITW) and at CLS," Trai said.
The regulator added that undertakings submitted by ILD or ISP should be backed by either proof of ownership of the submarine cable (SMC) assets as well as the assets at CLS OR by a signed agreement with the SMC owner or consortium to this effect.
Telecom industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) that Trai's recommendation that Indian entity-owned vessels will address undersea cable maintenance delays and reduce reliance on foreign providers for repairing subsea cables along the Indian coastline is welcomed by the industry.
Further, the recommendation that the Indian entities be facilitated and incentivised for setting up the 'Cable Depots' will help in the further development of the Submarine Cables ecosystem in India, COAI said.
"The Authority's recommendations crucially recognize submarine cables as critical assets and provision protective measures for them. They also encourage self-reliance, while focusing on enhancing efficiency and security. The recommendations are overall positive and will help in enhancing the robustness of the Submarine Cables ecosystem in India," COAI Director General SP Kochhar said.