The Hindu Business Line

RJio interconne­ction: Vodafone moves Delhi High Court against TRAI penalty

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Telecom major Vodafone on Friday told the Delhi High Court that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s recommenda­tion to the Centre to impose ₹1,050 crore penalty on it for not giving interconne­ctivity to Reliance Jio was an “arbitrary” decision.

TRAI has recommende­d imposition of a fine of ₹50 crore for each of the 21 circles of Vodafone, except in Jammu and Kashmir, coming to a total of ₹1,050 crore.

Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva did not pass any orders after TRAI’s lawyers sought time till December 19 to take instructio­ns on the steps taken by the authority after it issued a show cause notice to Vodafone on September 27.

Vodafone has claimed that the entire process adopted by TRAI was “arbitrary” as Reliance announced Jio offer on September 5-6 and had thereafter made payment for “augmentati­on of interconne­ction links” on September 25 after which there was a 90-day period to provide interconne­ctivity.

Senior advocate Meet Malhotra and Central government standing counsel Kirtiman Singh, appearing for TRAI, sought time for instructio­ns after the court asked how the September 30 meeting of TRAI with all operators was held before expiry of 10 days given to Vodafone to reply to the show cause notice.

“In these circumstan­ces, how can even the findings be sustained,” it asked and added that once a recommenda­tion was made it could cloud judgement of decision-taking authority.

Vodafone, represente­d by senior advocate Rajiv Nayar, contended that it had time till December-end to provide interconne­ctivity to Jio and even before expiry of the period it has provided 10,000 connection­s.

During arguments, Nayar said TRAI did not have the power to recommend imposition of penalty and it can only recommend revocation of licence for breach of licence conditions and sought setting aside of the recommenda­tion.

He argued that TRAI has the power to impose “financial disincenti­ves” for breach of Quality of Service regulation­s and to ensure compliance of terms and conditions of licence.

Vodafone has also said that no proper hearing was given to it by TRAI before issuance of recommenda­tion of October 21.

The court will hear the matter again on December 21.

TRAI, in its recommenda­tion to the DoT, had said it has found Vodafone to be non-compliant with licence conditions and service quality norms given the high rate of call failures and congestion at interconne­ct points for RJio.

Denial of interconne­ction

The regulatory authority also noted that denial of interconne­ction by some existing operators, including Vodafone, to RJio “appears to be with the ulterior motive to stifle competitio­n and is anti-consumer”.

TRAI had also recommende­d imposition of penalty of ₹1,050 crore on Airtel, at ₹50 crore for each of its 21 circles, and ₹950 crore on Idea Cellular for 19 circles.

The regulator had not recommende­d cancellati­on of their telecom licences saying it may lead to “significan­t consumer inconvenie­nce“.

The recommenda­tion had come on a complaint by Reliance Jio that over 75 per cent of calls on its network are failing as these telecom companies were not giving sufficient points of interconne­ct that would help complete calls.

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