KOLKATA: There could be disruption in mobile broadband coverage in the coming weeks with tower firms and telcos facing stiff challenges in setting up new infrastructure and obtaining right of way (RoW) clearances for laying optic fibre cables, critical for high-speed connectivity.

This is because most of the state government-run online portals that accept such applications are not operational, while some are facing technical snags, according to industry executives.

A government directive discouraging manual applications from telcos and tower companies lately is believed to have further aggravated the problem, senior industry executives said.

Tower firms and telcos have sought immediate intervention of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the ministry of electronics & information technology (MeitY) amid the huge backlog in applications awaiting clearances.

“Online portals are currently operating in just three states–Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Assam–which is why tower companies are facing big challenges elsewhere in getting approvals for setting up new mobile towers, laying optical fibre and obtaining RoW clearances,” TR Dua, director general of Tower & Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) told ET. TAIPA represents Indus Towers, ATC, GTL, Reliance Infratel and Tower Vision.

He said the association has apprised DoT and MeitY as the lack of telecom towers “is bound to impact telecom connectivity”, especially amid the surge in data consumption.

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Telcos strongly backed the view, saying operators were particularly facing issues in the submission of applications in Delhi, Bihar and Uttarakhand. “We’ve sought DoT’s urgent intervention to address challenges being faced by our members on the non-availability of online portal (facilities) to grant permissions for speedy rollout of telecom infrastructure,” said SP Kochhar, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea.Matters have come to a head as Airtel and Jio continue to grow their 4G user base and overall mobile data consumption is estimated to jump by 30-40% throughout FY21 amid the continuing pandemic as vast swathes of India Inc continue to work from home.

Email queries to Airtel, Jio and Vi remained unanswered as of press time.

Kochhar said “laying optical fiber cables to each home and across workplaces has become critical to augment broadband capacity with work-from-home (WFH) practices adopted across the country, including educational institutions”.

According to TAIPA, as of August 2020, as many as 45,000 applications for setting up telecom towers are pending with various states, of which a sizable chunk was made online in key states such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana. The COAI, in turn, added that roughly 10,000 applications for installing towers and laying cables are languishing at various local municipalities/ self-governing bodies due to the non-availability of online portal facilities for speedy clearances.

As many as 19 states/union territories have set in motion plans to launch online single-window clearance portals. But such portals are operational in merely six states, of which only three are currently accepting online applications.