Over 6,000 villages without mobile connectivity in northeast: TRAI
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Guwahati: Though the Centre has taken several initiatives to improve telecom connectivity in the northeast, there is still a lack of high-speed mobile-based internet and fixed broadband connectivity, mainly due to the inadequate transmission bandwidth, says the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

One glaring revelation was that 1,328 mobile sites were running on diesel generator sets in these states as of December 2022. “Though most of the villages in NE states now have power connectivity, owing to poor quality of commercial power supply available in these areas augmented with erratic power outages and high capital expenditure with inordinate processing delay involved in extending last mile power connectivity to telecom sites in such remote and hilly regions, sites are commissioned using DG sets,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India( TRAI) said in its report on “Improving Telecom Infrastructure in Northeastern States of India.”

“Telecom service providers are facing major problems in maintaining transportation of diesel at these sites located at remote and hilly areas round the year due to poor road condition as well as higher transportation cost. This further increases the operating expenditure for these sites. To add to these, during instances of disturbances, strikes/bandhs, the supply of diesel to mobile tower sites gets disturbed, affecting the uptime. In some states like Sikkim, local people have imposed restrictions on the running of DG sets during night hours. This leads to disruption of telecom services during night hours,” the report said.

The Northeast states continue to grapple with a significant digital divide due to various reasons such as inhospitable terrain conditions, poor availability of power supply, transmission media limitations, poor return of investment (RoT) prospects for TSPs, and right of way (RoW)-related issues. “This divide hampers the region’s socio-economic growth, restricts access to essential services and information, and exacerbates the developmental gap between the Northeast and the rest of the country,” the report says.

The TRAI has held suo-moto extensive consultations and interactions (including meetings, progress reviews, field visits, etc.) with major stakeholders to assess the current status of telecom infrastructure, issues in its deployment, and the policy measures required for further improvement to provide seamless connectivity to all residents of the northeastern states.

According to TRAI reports, the average teledensity of India as of April 2023 stood at 84.46%, but teledensity in Assam state is 71.09%, and that of Northeast Licensed Service Area (LSA) [consisting of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura] is 79.66%. “Though the gap in the teledensity figures between NE-States and the national average has reduced over the recent years, there exists a nonuniform proliferation of telecom and internet infrastructure cum services in the states, with major Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) emphasizing on rollout and consolidation of digital infrastructure mostly in plain and valley area compared to its hilly regions,” the telecom regulatory authority said in its report. 

There is a disparity in the wireless teledensity in the 8 NE states compared to India’s average of 82.94.

The report revealed that 6,136 villages (12.89 per cent) in the North East still do not have mobile coverage.

TRAI has called for engaging with respective state governments of northeast, including Sikkim to harmonise their respective state RoW policy in line with “The Indian Telegraph Right of Way Rules, 2016” and its amendments thereon at the earliest, implement exemption of Right-of-Way (RoW) charges in rural, tribal and hilly regions for five years, implement waiver of the additional 25% ‘Tribal Development Charges’ being imposed upon telecom service providers wherever applicable in the NE states, including Sikkim. 

It has asked state governments of NER, including Sikkim to provide electricity to telecom sites as a priority (within 15 days of connection request) at utility/industrial tariff and waive off or subsidise last-mile installation charges for extending electricity connection to telecom sites in remote and hilly areas and respective State Electricity Regulatory Commissions to spell out utility tariffs which should be lower than the Industrial tariff.

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It has recommended to the Centre to provide budgetary assistance in the form of grants to the states (including those in NER) only for the purpose of assisting certain village-level government institutions in obtaining a BharatNet connection, procuring digital communication devices, and covering the monthly usage charges for connectivity.

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