The government cannot force mobile operators to go beyond their roll-out obligation and give phone coverage to fishermen venturing into the deep sea, the Department of Telecommunications has informed the naval authorities.
The DoT has responded to the proposal of Directorate of Naval Signals, which suggested that the mobile operators be asked to extend seamless coverage of 15-20 nautical miles off the coasts.
The objective of the proposal of the defence establishment, as discussed in the recent meeting of the naval commanders, was to enable fishermen to remain in contact with their families when at sea.
"...the expansion of network beyond roll-out obligations is to be done by mobile operators as per their business plans. Thus, giving the mandate as suggested by defence ministry is not feasible," the DoT said recently in a communication to the naval authorities.
At present, the mobile coverage in the sea is provided up to a distance of five km (one nautical mile is equivalent to 1.85 km).
Suggesting alternatives, the DoT said satellite phones could be the best way to give the connectivity to the fishermen operating deep in the sea.
"Other solutions include use of offshore oil rigs, tiny islands etc where base stations can be set up with wider range having backhaul connectivity to the network of operators through satellite," the DoT said.
The possibility of setting up floating platforms in the sea where solar powered base stations can be installed could also be explored, it added.
Safety of Indian fishermen, who at times stray into foreign waters, is an area of concern for the government.