This piece reviews the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommendations on “Privacy, Security and Ownership of Data in the Telecom Sector” released on July 16, 2018 (Recommendations) and attempts to highlight some of their more immediate potential consequences.

Consultations are typically taken up by TRAI based on requests from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). In the instant case, the TRAI has atypically put out the consultation and subsequently the Recommendations of its own volition, without an explicit mandate on the subject.

TRAI recommendations are approved and implemented by the DoT pursuant to the procedure under Section 11 of the TRAI Act, 1997. This process may involve the DoT seeking clarifications, modifications or otherwise referring items back the TRAI.

This process may turn out to be more complex in connection with the current set of Recommendations, given that much of their content recommends the passing of broad-ranging new legislation that is not limited to only the telecom sector.


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In the initial years of wireless telephony in India, radio spectrum was administratively allotted to licensees. However, following the recommendations of the National Telecom Policy, 2012, and the decision of the Apex Court in the case of Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India,[1] the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) de-bundled spectrum allotment from the grant of licenses, and adopted an auction-based price-discovery mechanism for spectrum allotment.

Scarce radio spectrum resources have typically been considered as bottleneck assets, and therefore auctions provide an effective means of price discovery, help maximise revenue for the Government, and ensure optimal allocation of spectrum resources. However, excessive reliance on bid markets risks overlooking potential market failures attributable to enterprises attempting to monopolise bottleneck assets such as spectrum.

Recognising the need to ensure that no one operator should be able to monopolise scarce spectrum resources to the detriment of its competitors and consumers, the DoT, in successive Notice Inviting Applications (NIAs) has prescribed ceilings for the amount of spectrum that can be held by any telecommunications operator in a given band within a Licensed Service Area (LSA), as well as a ceiling on the total amount of spectrum that can be held by an operator across all bands in an LSA. Presently, these stand at 50% of any given spectrum band in an LSA, and 25% of the overall spectrum available in such LSA across all bands. These restrictions have also been incorporated into the Mergers and Acquisitions Guidelines of 2014 (M&A Guidelines) as prescribed by the DoT.


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Most frequent fliers would have been familiar with the requirement to power off personal electronic devices (PEDs) for the duration of domestic flights. It was not until 2014, that Indian fliers were permitted to operate mobile phones and other PEDs on “flight mode” (in non-transmitting mode). The rationale for this restriction, as explained by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), is that radio transmitters in most communications devices may, and have in the past, caused harmful interference with crucial on-board flight systems. Therefore, while several Indian carriers such as Jet Airways already provide on-board Wi-Fi services, such services are limited to the provision of locally stored content to airborne PEDs, and do not enable passengers to connect to the internet cloud.

However, recent technological developments have now made it possible for passengers to use transmitting PEDs while airborne, without causing harmful interference to crucial flight operation systems or terrestrial communication networks. Together these technological solutions are labelled In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) services. Typically, IFC solutions are provided by making use of aeronautical mobile satellite services that use a satellite link to provide IFC to onboard PEDs; or by using Mobile Communications on-board Aircraft (MCA) systems, which while typically operating on terrestrial GSM communications bands, use an air-to-ground satellite link to establish connections with terrestrial networks.


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