With incumbent telecom operators and new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) failing to resolve issues relating to points of interconnect (PoI), mobile number portability (MNP), asymmetric call traffic and others, the ball has fallen into the Trai’s court again.
A senior executive of a leading telecom operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, accused the telecom watchdog of not taking a stand on various issues or giving clear directions to them.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman R S Sharma countered the allegation saying that PoI, which helps a caller to connect his call on another operator’s network, was a bilateral issue and the regulator’s role was only to monitor its outcome.
“I can’t direct (operators) because PoI is a bilateral issue between the operators. I am only monitoring the outcome, which is the congestion level and quality of service to consumers,” he told dna.
Mahesh Uppal, director of the telecom consultancy firm Com First (India), said the subject of interconnection points comes entirely under the jurisdiction of Trai.
“The Trai, typically, should ask the operators to settle it amongst themselves, failing which it should direct them whatever it wants them to do. That is typically the format in which it should work. It is unclear whether the Trai has told operators that this is how it is going to regulate this. The Trai has complete jurisdiction over interconnection. In fact, this is one of the areas where even the government doesn’t have much of a role. So, this is almost entirely Trai’s baby,” he said.
Reliance Jio has alleged that the incumbent players such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea were not releasing incremental interconnection points which had resulted in 52 crore of its users’ calls failing since its formal launch on September 5.
This has been countered by incumbents, who believe they have sufficiently augmented PoI to meet the Reliance Jio’s demand for its present and projected customers-base.
RJio has also complained to the telecom regulator that the incumbents were not allowing its mobile users to port out their numbers to its network.
Sharma said Trai had already acted on the complaint made by RJio and had asked all the telecom operators to provide information on how many calls were attempted to get on the interconnection points, how many calls passed through and how many calls failed because of PoI congestion.
This data, he said, would be for the period of five days, starting September 15 to September 19.
“We have asked them for that information in a couple of days. Once I get that, I will take action accordingly,” the regulator told dna.
Sharma said as per the norm, not more than 0.5% of the calls can fail due to PoI congestion. “If this norm is being violated we will take action against the concerned telcos under the law”.
He said the regulatory body was also looking into RJio’s complaint on MNP. The chief of the regulatory body dismissed the issue of asymmetry of call traffic raised by the incumbent operators saying it was “beyond regulation”.
“There is nothing like asymmetric or symmetric. The interconnect regime provides that you must provide adequate POI so that the congestion levels are not there. And whenever the operators handle calls from other operators they get an amount which is equal to 14 paise per call”.
Sharma said interconnection usage charge (IUC) or termination fee was decided through a laid down process and it had nothing to do with the symmetry of traffic. The termination charge was fixed at 14 paise per call by Trai on March 1, 2015. The incumbent operators feel the fee is below cost.
The incumbent operators and RJio have been at loggerheads since the middle of the current year after the telecom watchdog floated a consultation paper to review the IUC, hinting zero-rating it. Post this, the dominant older players accused Trai of being partial to new entrant (RJio). This allegation has been refuted by the regulator.
A senior executive, who did not want to be named, told dna the telecom regulator needed to create a level playing field in the telecom market. Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s telecom firm’s aggressive data tariff plans, along with free voice, revealed early this month has got the incumbents in a defensive mode.
“You (Trai), Mr Regulator, need to step in and level the playing field. This is not a level playing field,” said a senior executive of one of the leading telecom operators.
“The asymmetry (of traffic) is being caused by zero-rating (of voice services by RJio). You (Trai) have already said zero-rating for data is not permitted. How can you permit it for voice calls? It is creating a problem for us (incumbents),” he added.
On the legality of free voice service being offered by RJio, telecom expert Uppal said, “I don’t think there is any bar on companies offering free services. If that is an issue then it is for the Trai to resolve. It (Trai) has a complete jurisdiction over tariff and interconnection. In these areas, it does not even recommend to the government, it just acts. While it is understandable that you (telcos) would feel annoyed that you are losing business to somebody offering free service, it is actually not illegal”.
Uppal also said that an operator cannot refuse MNP on the basis of free services being offered by its rival.