Telecom operators and internet service providers have opposed the public Wi-Fi model recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and have written to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) saying the move would compromise national security.

The separate letters, copies of which have been seen by BusinessLine , said such a decision would adversely impact the debt-ridden industry and also lead to a non-level playing field between licensed and unlicensed players.

Based on existing rules for cyber-cafes, TRAI had recommended that a new set of players, called Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs), be allowed to set up Public Data Offices (PDOs) to resell internet services, much on lines of the PCOs of yesteryear which facilitated telephone calls.

However, in its letter, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has called for continuing the current licence model, in which only those with permits are allowed to provide internet services. This, it said, will help maintain stability and consistency in licensing and regulatory framework.

The COAI said acceptance of TRAI’s recommendations would be a violation of Telegraph Act, a disruption of the level-playing field, and a contradiction of the TRAI Act, and a loss of revenue to the exchequer.

The COAI, whose members include Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone, and Idea Cellular, has been opposing implementation of TRAI’s suggestions for public Wi-Fi services since April 12, 2017.

It said allowing services like the internet to be resold under a registration/authorisation without obligation of any statutory levy, compliance with security guidelines or TRAI regulations, would be against the very basic foundations of the Unified Licensing Regime, and should be allowed only through a Unified Licence for Virtual Network Operators (UL-VNO).

“Therefore, we would request the government, in the interest of the level-playing field, to reject these recommendations ab initio. However, if government still feels that PDOAs should be allowed for rural areas/ villages, then it should be mandated in rural areas/ villages through licensing,” said Rajan S Mathews, Director General, COAI.

The COAI has also written to Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan on the matter.

The Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) has also written to the PMO, stating that it was disappointed with TRAI’s recommendations as it aimed to bypass licensing requirements, and would be detrimental to investments made by small licensed ISPs.

The new regime would only force small ISPs to shut shop and lose their investments. It would also only serve large foreign operators who intend to work without being subjected to any licensing regime, revenue-sharing and security requirements, the ISPAI said.

“We therefore request the PMO to inform the DoT (Department of Telecom] to not accept the recommendations of TRAI to maintain the level-playing field and to protect the business of small ISP operators (sic). We also request DoT to allow us an opportunity of personal hearing at the earliest,” said Rajesh Chharia, President, ISPAI, in the letter.

Meanwhile, Assocham has also written to DoT, calling the TRAI recommendations ‘completely unjustifiable and unwarranted’, reasoning that it would disrupt the entire licensing framework and affect the huge amount of investment already made in the telecom infrastructure.

If PDOAs need to be introduced, then it should be done under a licensing framework only, the industry body added.