5G Spectrum: Why the relaxation of security conditions in border areas?



Shri G C Murmu


Dear Shri Murmu,

I write this in continuation of my previous two letters dated 13-8-2022 & 15-8-2022 on the 5G spectrum auctions (https://countercurrents.org/2022/08/5g-spectrum-is-it-a-distress-sale-cag-may-look-at-it-carefully/)

There are two important post-tender developments that accentuate the concerns I had raised in my letter dated 13-8-2022. They are as follows.

  1. Relaxation of security conditions in border areas for mobile operators- Is it a post-tender relaxation?

DOT is reported to have dropped the security restrictions in UAL (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-policy/dot-eases-security-needs-for-mobile-services-in-border-areas/articleshow/93737283.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst)

The UAL stipulates the following security condition (https://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Unified%20Licence_0.pdf), which the bidders in the 5G auctions had specifically agreed to comply with.

“8.1 (i) Licensee shall ensure that the Base Stations, Cell Sites or Radio Transmitters, as the case may be, to provide mobile telephone services near International Border of India, wherever located and established shall be as far away from such border as feasible and such Base Stations, Cell Sites or Radio Transmitters shall work in such a fashion that radio signal(s), emanating there from, fade out when nearing or about to cross international border and become unusable within a reasonable distance across such border. For this purpose, suitable technical infrastructure shall be installed by the Licensee” 

Such a relaxation clearly amounts to an undue benefit given to the successful bidders who will operate in the border areas. Such post-tender benefits vitiate the sanctity of any competitive auction system.

In addition, from the security point of view, would not such a relaxation affect the national interest? India has a long international border, with some adjacent countries already making advances in defence application of the 5G spectrum use.

  1. Deliberate attempts by the DOT to weaken the BSNL in having a dominant presence in the 5G race:

The DOT is forcing the BSNL to monetise its vast network of 13,500 mobile towers and 2.86 lakh km of fibre optic lines (https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/niti-aayog-expects-rs-35100-crore-from-telecom-assets-by-fy24/85568528) on the ostensible ground that it would enable the CPSE to raise resources for rehabilitating itself, an argument that is fallacious and self-destructive for the BSNL.

Indirectly, this amounts to handing over BSNL’s infrastructure on a silver platter to the private telecom companies, who have just won 5G spectrum bands recently in a somewhat non-competitive auction process.

In addition, the idea of a CPSE monetising its assets for raising resources is a highly impudent one, as I had already explained in detail in my letter dated 13-8-2022.

First, in any such monetisation exercise, the BSNL’s valuable assets will invariably be undersold on highly disadvantageous terms. Second, it will lose control over those assets, when they are most urgently needed. Third, no additionality to resources would accrue, as those who lease/ buy the assets will access the same pool of savings in the economy that the government can directly access and raise resources on much better terms.

Instead of forcing the BSNL to part control over its valuable assets, the government should have borrowed the funds from the market directly and injected the same into the BSNL to revive it.

BSNL’s revival is not a matter of choice but it is a necessity, as I had already indicated in my earlier letter dated 13-8-2022.

There are better ways for the government to exercise prudence in budget management than raising resources through disinvestment of public assets, about which I had indicated alternatives in my earlier correspondence.

As a Constitutional authority to audit the DOT with special reference to the 5G auctions being conducted, I appeal to you to examine these concerns of public interest and render your considered advice to the Parliament.

Considering that the DOT is rushing ahead with further 5G auctioning, this matter assumes great urgency.


Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to Govt of india



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