Telcos will not need major overhaul for on-ground services, says COAI

The stressed industry has been seeking reduction in the License Fees (LF) and Spectrum Usage Charge (SUC) as well as modifications in the GST
The telecom sector does not foresee any major changes required for on-ground approvals to carry out services during the extended phase of lockdown, industry body Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) said on Tuesday.

“Any issues that may crop up will be discussed with the Department of Telecom (DoT) for expeditious resolution,” COAI Director General Rajan Mathews said.

Asked if he anticipated job losses in the sector in coming weeks, Mathews said, "at present, our members have not indicated to us any plans to reduce headcount."

On whether the industry would extend benefits that had been announced recently for low-income prepaid users, such as validity extension and talktime credit, Mathews said, "no decision has been made on what the industry expects to do on that front during the next quarantine period. As soon as any decision is made, members will let us know".

Asked if the sector perceived any fresh requirements to continue offering uninterrupted connectivity, Mathews said industry will continue with the arrangements that were in place for the first lockdown period, into the next phase. "We do not see any major changes required," he said. The financial health of the industry remains a key priority issue to be addressed by the government, he added.

"Telecom has been classified as 'critical infrastructure'. As such, the industry expects to continue to focus on its key responsibility to maintain the operational health of the networks in all areas," he added. During the meeting with DoT officials on Monday, COAI had also highlighted the need for the government to address the financial plight of the industry, on an expedited basis. 

The stressed industry has been seeking reduction in the License Fees (LF) and Spectrum Usage Charge (SUC) as well as modifications in the GST where spectrum debt payments, LF and SUC payments would not be classified as “services” and hence not attract GST. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced that the current lockdown will be extended till May 3, saying it is very necessary to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

In a televised address to the nation, Modi said implementation of the lockdown will be strictly ensured in coming days to ensure that the virus does not spread to new areas. The prime minister said detailed guidelines on implementation of the new lockdown will be announced on Wednesday. Some relaxations may be allowed after April 20 in places where there is no hotspot, he said.

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