Telcos seek frontline worker status for field staff to avoid service breakdown in MaharashtraKolkata: Phone companies have sought the urgent intervention of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to ensure their essential field staff get the status of frontline healthcare workers to operate freely and be exempt from any curfew-like restrictions amid the surge in Covid19 cases in Maharashtra and the prospect of fresh lockdowns.

They have warned that without such exemptions, telecom services field engineers won’t be able to access critical sites nor do repairs and maintenance work in Covid zones, which could cause a breakdown in mobile and internet connectivity in Maharashtra.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio Infocomm and Vodafone Idea (Vi), has written to telecom secretary Anshu Prakash, seeking “frontline health worker status for field staff of all telecom service providers” so that they are vaccinated on priority and also exempt from any movement restrictions in states like Maharashtra amid the fresh Covid spike.

“I’ve written to the telecom secretary, who, in turn, has strongly recommended to the health ministry that all telecom services field staff/engineers be conferred the status of frontline healthcare workers so that they can operate freely and ensure uninterrupted telecom connectivity in places like Maharashtra, which is seeing a surge in Covid19 cases,” S P Kochhar, director general, COAI, told ET.

Telecom tower companies too have approached DoT for vaccination of their field teams on a priority basis, akin to frontline healthcare staff, so that they can go about their operations & maintenance (O&M) work in an unhindered fashion in states seeing a surge in Covid cases.

“Tower companies have 45,000 direct/indirect employees on the field who have been working tirelessly to operate/maintain telecom infrastructure, 24X7, and it’s essential they are categorised frontline workers and given priority for administering the Covid-19 prevention vaccine,” T R Dua, director general of Tower & Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA), said in recent letter to the DoT. The TAIPA represents Indus, ATC, Summit Digitel, Ascend, Tower Vision.

Separately, TAIPA has warned that the Maharashtra government’s refusal to implement the state’s telecom infrastructure policy of February 2018 could disrupt telecom connectivity in the state amid the latest Covid outbreak.

Dua said “the situation is alarming in Maharashtra, and if there’s a lockdown with the rise in Covid cases, the people of the state may face telecom connectivity issues due to the long-pending resolution of operational issues”.

Telecom tower companies, he said, continue to face threats of coercive action, including disconnection, demolition and sealing of tower sites, from local municipal corporations who are unwilling to accept the state’s telecom infrastructure policy. TAIPA has sought the Maharashtra chief secretary’s urgent intervention.

Pain-points include exorbitant fees of upto Rs 2 lakh per tower that the companies have to shell out for regularisation of towers, high property taxes and additional penalties levied by local municipal bodies if a tower is deemed as unauthorised.

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