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States told to speed up clearances for telecom field staff

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Telecom secretary Anshu Prakash has urged all states and union territories (UTs) to speed up clearances to field staff of telecom operators, tower operators and internet service providers across India to ensure uninterrupted mobile and broadband connectivity to consumers amid the deadly second wave of Covid-19.

In a letter dated April 27, Prakash said, “telecommunications being an essential service, it is requested that all personnel engaged in providing and maintaining mobile, internet and telecom infrastructure services be issued the necessary permissions and passes, including for travel by local train/public transport, to enable all (consumers) to stay connected, even in the eventuality of lockdowns and restrictions on movement imposed by states and UTs”.

ET has seen a copy of the letter, which was addressed to chief secretaries of states and UTs. The telecom department, Prakash said, trusts “all states and UTs will extend assistance and facilitation, amid restrictions arising out of the Covid-19 outbreak,” to enable uninterrupted services or operations of telephone exchanges, mobile switching centres, network operation centres, data centres, call centres and warehouses where maintenance spares are stored.

The telecom secretary’s letter comes shortly after phone companies and tower operators urged the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to push states and UTs to recognise telecom as an essential service and ensure its uninterrupted availability even during countrywide lockdowns.

“Telecom is an essential service, it is requested that all personnel engaged in providing and maintaining mobile, internet and telecom infrastructure services be issued the necessary permissions and passes…”

— Anshu Prakash, Telecom Secretary (In a letter dated April 27)

A senior industry executive said the DoT’s intervention was “critical” as operators were facing big challenges in securing the necessary e-passes or approvals via state portals for unhindered movement of their field engineers amid the latest lockdowns, which severely impacted network support and maintenance operations.

Telcos and tower companies have also recently sought the DoT’s help to ensure their essential field staff get frontline healthcare worker status to operate freely and be exempt from any curfew-like restrictions amid the Covid-19 second wave. They have warned that without such exemptions, field engineers will not be able to access critical sites or do repairs and maintenance work, which could cause a breakdown in mobile and internet connectivity across states. Tower companies have also approached the DoT for priority vaccination of field crew so that they can go about their operations and maintenance work unhindered in states facing a surge in infections.

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