Years after Indian telecom operators have been opting for cheaper telecom equipment from China to boost operational revenues in the booming sector, the Indian Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on Wednesday tightened rules for telecom equipment. The new move, which seeks to alleviate the government of any security threat especially from China makes service providers responsible for any security breach in the operators’ networks and has placed a fine of up to 500 million rupees (US$11.1 million) on any such case.
Fearing malicuous software implants and listening devices on equipment from China, the DoT said “The [telecom] licensee shall be completely and totally responsible for security of their networks.”
The announcement comes a year after New Delhi raised alarm bells on the possibility of a national security breach from Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei. It also comes on the same day that Airtel announced plans to partner with Huawei to build and expand its operations in Africa. Further, India’s largest loan from China, by Anil Ambani’s RCOM from China Development Bank for Rs 6,000 crore (US$ 1.33 billion) has been sanctioned for RCOM to buy more telecom equipment from China. And lastly, China Telecom the largest fixed line service and 3rd largest mobile telecommunication provider in China is cooperating with three Indian telecom carriers – Bharti Airtel Ltd., Reliance Communications Ltd. and Tata Communications Ltd. to establish a cable connection between China and India. It is also in talks with India’s government to establish a Representative Office in New Delhi. China Telecom is keen to expand its presence in India through partnerships amid slowing growth in its home market.
The new telecom policy which allows operators to form their own policy on their security networks also states that telecom operators can only import equipment certified by Indian or international standards from any international agency till March 31, 2013, but have to get the equipment certified by Indian labs from April 1, 2013.
Telecom operators have been asked to employ only Indians as chief technical officers, chief information officers and nodal executives to be in charge of security networks.
Phone companies have been asked to keep all call and data records for 12 months and give the telecom department access to all such details. The companies also have to inform the department of any updates or changes in equipment within 15 days, it added.
Telecom companies will also have to create monitoring facilities inform the telecom department within the next 12 months about the establishment, it said.
The telecom department said it will levy a penalty of up to 500 million rupees for each security breach in the networks, which arise due to the failure of the telecom companies in taking precaution against such instances.
The telecom department will form a five-member group that will decide on any penalties and criminal proceedings in case of any breach of the new rules.