Trai Gets Earful from Telecom Panel for Penalty Call to Incumbent Telcos
TC questions Trai’s basis for slapping 3k cr fine on Airtel, Idea & Voda for ‘failing’ to provide POIs to Jio
New Delhi: The Telecom Commission has questioned the industry regulator’s methodology and its basis for recommending cumulative penalties of .₹ 3,050 crore on Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone for allegedly “failing” to provide adequate points of connectivity to Reliance Jio Infocomm, which led to call failures. It has even asked whether the authority has the powers to recommend such penalties.
It has sought around 12 clarifications from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on multiple aspects relating to the penalty which the regulator recommended last year on the incumbent telecom operators, said people aware of the matter. “The commission has sought clarifications from Trai on multiple issues and the regulator now has 15 days to respond,” a senior government functionary told ET. The Telecom Commission (TC), the highest decision-making body of the telecom department, met on Monday to discuss the regulator’s penalty recommendations. The commission is headed by the telecom secretary and comprises the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion secretary, economic affairs secretary, Niti Aayog chief executive officer and IT secretary as members. Seeking Explanation Asked the regulator if it even possesses the powers to recommend a penalty
Asked Trai why it computed congestion on a daily basis instead of monthly basis
Sought to know from when did Trai count the period of 90 days, within which incumbents are obliged to provide required points of interconnection
TC has asked Trai if it even possesses powers under the Trai Act to recommend such penalties
Asked reasons for examining violations under licence agreement and not draft inter-connect agreement
Among the queries, the commission has asked the regulator if it even possesses powers under the Trai Act to recommend such penalties. The commission also examined the Department of Telecommunication’s internal report analysing the regulator’s recommendations.
According to one of the persons aware of the matter, “Section 11(I) (a) of the Trai Act empowers the regulator to cancel permits of telecom operators. It also empowers the regulator to levy financial disincentives for failing to meet its standards. However, it doesn’t empower the regulator to recommend penalties. Hence, the commission has sought clarification from the regulator.” The commission has also sought to know whether the incumbent operators were given a total period of 90 days from the time Jio had sought points of interconnect. “The commission has sought to know from when did the regulator count the period of 90 days, within which the incumbents are obliged to provide the required points of interconnect,” the official said.
Further, the commission has quizzed the regulator on its methodology for calculating the congestion on Jio’s network. “The criteria that the congestion should be less than 0.5% says the period for computing this has to be a month. So how come the regulator based its assessment on a daily computation?” said one of the persons cited above.
‘WHY LICENCE AGREEMENT?’
The commission has also sought clarity from the regulator on why Trai examined violations by the incumbents and recommended penalties on the basis of licence agreements, since the in- terconnect usage charge is a commercial agreement between parties based on the draft IUC agreement of the Trai.
“Shouldn’t the examinations by the regulator have been based on the basis of the draft interconnect usage charges (IUC) agreement rather than the licence agreement?” said the official. The regulator had recommended penalties of .₹ 1,050 crore each on Airtel and Vodafone India and .₹ 950 crore on Idea Cellular as it found that these telcos weren’t providing adequate points of interconnect to Reliance Jio last year in October. Jio had complained then that over 75% calls on its network were failing as incumbents tried to sabotage its entry into telecom.
While the department deliberates on the matter, Vodafone has filed a petition against the recommended penalty in the Delhi High Court while Airtel and Idea Cellular have challenged Trai’s decision to permit Jio to offer free voice and data services till March at the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal.
Besides this, the Telecom Commission has approved the demand of Rs 2,834 crore to be raised from nine telecom operators including MTS, Tata Teleservices, Videocon, STEL, Idea Cellular and Uninor (now Telenor), which provided services after February 2012, when the Supreme Court cancelled their licences, and till the time they bought fresh permits after buying spectrum in the subsequent auction.
Panel has also sought to know whether the incumbent operators were given a total period of 90 days from the time Jio had sought PoIs