DoT, Trai set for battle over spectrum management

The Department of Telecom (DoT) and sector regulator Trai look set for a major showdown over management of spectrum, the radio frequencies on which mobile services operate. While this task is currently undertaken by DoT’s Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing (WPC), Trai is of the view that it should be entrusted with this task as the government’s methodology of spectrum management, “has not kept pace with major changes in technology, business practices and economic policies during the last decade”.

Consider what Trai has told the government on this issue: “Due to cumbersome procedures, lack of automation, non-availability of data bases, lack of networking and unresponsive procedures, the present arrangement and practices of allocating spectrum being followed by WPC is unable to keep pace with the best international standards and practices being followed. These aspects need immediate attention.”

Trai has also pointed out that while the traditional method of spectrum management where the government apportioned this resource among different users may have worked well for many years, going forward, this is unlikely to work as on account of the rapid demand from wireless services and changing patterns of use. The regulator has also gently reminded the government that India too must ‘follow the international practices where telecom regulator has been given specific responsibility for the evolution of spectrum policy with management under the guidance of an interdepartmental coordination committee.’

DoT, on the other hand, has no plans to give up spectrum management. It is of the view that most issues raised by Trai will be addressed once the World Bank-assisted project — design, supply, installation and commissioning of National Radio Spectrum Management and Monitoring System (NRSMMS) — is implemented. The project will put in place an automated system to ensure that these frequencies are used efficiently by all users, and following its completion, the WPC will do away with the manual management of the country’s spectrum resources.

Yet, Trai feels that the government continuing with spectrum management has led to growing technical and economic inefficiencies, as well as obstacles to technological innovation. “With the tremendous growth in applications for licences, the weaknesses of the administrative approach including long delays, the impossibility for the government to pick the most promising proposals, and the lack of economic incentives to use spectrum efficiently, have become evident,” says Trai.

The regulator has also pointed out other deficiencies with the WPC from lack of automation and computerisation which makes the entire spectrum allocation process non-transparent, the department’s failure to revise he National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP) every two years as per the norms (NFAP has not been revised since 2004) the lack of a proper consultation process before announcing spectrum allocation and pricing guidelines. At the same time, Trai has also said anybody that did spectrum management should follow a set of principles so as to respond to the challenges of new market dynamics and technological advance.

These principles should include the fact that the policy is responsive to change, is technology and service neutral, should balance public and private use, allow use of mixed methodologies, promote efficient use of spectrum and encourage growth, follow market oriented distribution of this resource in addition to pricing radio resources correctly, the regulator added.