Businesses and consumers in the nation’s IT capital may face massive connectivity disruptions in the coming weeks, as Bengaluru’s municipal corporation has decided to intensify its drive to remove unauthorised overhead cables.
Last week, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) pulled down cables dangling from trees and poles in three zones, including Mahadevapura that houses many IT offices. The corporation will now expand the drive to the rest of the city.
The move has irked telecom companies as their services are severely hit already by the drive. The telecom industry lobby group has warned about the possibility of companies slowing down work in Bengaluru and looking elsewhere for network expansion.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents top telecom companies including Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, called the drive a “sudden and unwarranted action” that is causing inconvenience to customers in densely populated areas.
Rajan Mathews, director general, COAI, said: “The municipal body’s decision to cut off cables is arbitrary. The service providers operate as per the central act and the city corporation cannot take such decision by ignoring the right of way rules for telecom service providers. We have decided to escalate the issue to the Department of Telecommunications.”
However, the BBMP is paying no heed to warnings and has maintained that the drive would continue and the only option for network providers is to pay a penalty for maintaining unauthorised cables and apply online to get a licence for laying underground cables.
According to corporation officials, the BBMP had signed memoranda of understanding with 23 service providers since 2012 to lay underground cables, stretching for about 8,300 km.
“Rest all are unauthorised,” said MR Venkatesh, chief engineer for OFC at the corporation.
Officials said the violations have happened at various levels. While some network providers lay cables without obtaining permission at all, some obtain a temporary permission for overhead cables on newly built roads but refuse to move those underground after a year that they must do under the terms. “It is not a sudden and unwarranted action. We have held several meetings with service providers in the past two years and have repeatedly warned them to obtain permission and lay cables underground only. Yet they continued to violate,” Venkatesh said.
In fact, the BBMP commissioner issued a revised order in May 2017 with a series of instructions to regulate overhead cables.
“The drive is not new. We have been doing for over a year. But recently we have intensified the drive to ensure that all illegal cables are removed. We are hoping to get revenue of Rs.200 crore this year if all the cables are authorised,” said Mahadeva M, chairman of the BBMP Standing Committee for Taxation and Finance.
The drive, BBMP officials say, has been taken up as per the instructions of deputy chief minister G Parameshwara, who said the dangling cables were not only an eyesore but also were posing threat to public.
A few telecom customers alleged a nexus between service providers and officials. “All these years, the BBMP officials turned a blind eye even though the service providers were laying overhead cables right before their eyes,” said one of them.
MK Gunashekar, former chairman of the Taxation and Finance Standing Committee, said the drive should be continuous. “It should not stop until all the dangling cables are removed and service providers get them authorised,” he said.