India’s In-flight Connectivity Rules: Eligibility, Restrictions, Fees, and Obligations for IFMC Service Providers

The Department of Telecommunications of India (DoT) published and enforced the long-awaited Flight and Maritime Connectivity Rules, 2018, (the “Rules”) on 14 December 2018. The Rules authorise Indian and foreign registered airlines or ships — including business jets, executive aircrafts, and yachts — to offer In-Flight and Maritime Connectivity (IFMC) services within or above India or Indian territorial waters. Passengers will now enjoy wireless Internet access via Wi-Fi and mobile data.

The Department of Telecommunications of India (DoT) published and enforced the long-awaited Flight and Maritime Connectivity Rules, 2018, (the “Rules”) on 14 December 2018.

The Rules authorise Indian and foreign registered airlines or ships — including business jets, executive aircrafts, and yachts — to offer In-Flight and Maritime Connectivity (IFMC) services within or above India or Indian territorial waters. Passengers will now enjoy wireless Internet access via Wi-Fi and mobile data.

The provision of IFMC services within the Indian territory is subject to an In-flight Authorisation — valid for 10 years — and to eligibility criteria, restrictions, fees, and obligations.

Eligibility

  • Any locally-established company; or any Indian or foreign airline company permitted to enter the Indian airspace; and/or any Indian or foreign shipping company whose vessels or ships call Indian ports or transit through Indian territorial waters and intend to carry out communication for non-GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress Safety System) can apply for an in-flight licence.
  • The applicant must hold one of the following licences: access service licence, ISP category A licence, NLD (National Long Distance) licence, or a commercial VSAT-CUG (Very Small Aperture Terminal – Closed Use Group) service licence.
  • Alternatively, an applicant can enter into a commercial agreement with a licensed entity, and must disclose such agreement to the DoT.

Further restrictions

  • For connectivity provided via satellite, the licensee (either the applicant or its commercial partner) must have a satellite gateway earth station in India.
  • The IFMC service provider is permitted to use either Indian satellite system or foreign satellite system capacity duly authorised through the Department of Space.
  • Mobile communication services in aircraft can only be provided at a minimum height of 3 000 meters and Wi-Fi services are accessible when electronic devices are in airplane mode, except for takeoff and landing.
  • The IFMC service provider or its partnering licensee must also apply for a frequency assignment from the Wireless Planning and Coordination wing of the DoT. However, the telecom licensee is allowed to use its previously assigned spectrum bandwidth for the provision of IFMC services.

Fees

  • A non-refundable application fee for the Authorisation: around USD 720.
  • The Annual Authorisation Fee is a symbolic INR  1 (USD 0.01). It applies in addition to any licence and spectrum fees paid by the telecom licensees under the respective licences.
  • Additionally, “revenue earned by the partnering licensee from IFMC service providers or by the licensee providing IFMC services, shall be included in the gross revenue of the licensee, for the purpose of licence fee and spectrum usage charges”.

Lawful interception obligations

  • The “designated authority” shall have the right to monitor or intercept messages passing through the IFMC network. While there is no further clarification on what constitutes a “designated authority”, the Home Secretary is currently in charge of lawful interception of telecommunications.
  • The hardware and software required for lawful interception and monitoring of data will be provided by the IFMC service provider or its partnering licensee at the premises of the “designated authority”.

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