Telecom squabble reaches PMO


The tussle between incumbent telecom operators and Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL), which will soon be commercially launching its service, is heating up.

After knocking on the doors of Department of Telecom (DoT) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the lobby body of GSM players Cellular Operators Authority of India (COAI) has written to the Prime Minister’s Office, seeking a meeting with it to bring to its notice the biased approach of the telecom watchdog in recent policy decisions and consultations to favour new players (read Reliance Jio).

A letter shot off to the PMO on Thursday said, “Some recent decisions and policy consultations by Trai has left the industry worried as they appear distorting the level-playing field within the sector and are regressive in nature”.

Earlier this week, the industry body had raised concerns over Trai’s recent decisions and reviews tilting in favour of new entrants.

“It seems some of these (Trai’s consultations) papers have been crafted and timed to serve the interests of some new entrants in the sector with complete disregard for the massive investment made by the existing operators,” it said.

The legacy players Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communication and others claim to have spent a huge amount of money in building their massive network infrastructure across telecom circles over several years. On its part, RJIL claims it has already invested over Rs 1.34 lakh crore till now and would be spending another Rs 1.5 lakh crore in the ongoing phase of the project.

The COAI’s letter criticises the “unfair” attitude adopted by the telecom regulator in making policy decisions; “We would like to submit that it is unfair for the regulator to adopt policy measures to either promote or discriminate between existing and new entrants”.

Rajan S Mathews, director general of COAI, said the industry body had sought meetings with the PMO, telecom minister Manoj Sinha and DoT secretary J S Deepak.

“We have an appointment with the DoT secretary (today) but haven’t heard from the minister and PMO so far,” he told dna on Thursday evening.

The COAI also raised the issue of rationalisation and scrapping of mobile termination charge, which is paid for calls terminating on an operator’s network, in its mail to the PMO. It said the move was aimed at hurting the “financial and operational viability” of existing players.

The charge, which was introduced in 2003, was reviewed in 2009 and 2015. According to the industry body, at the last revision of the interconnect charge, Trai had decided to review it again in 2017-18.

“It is, therefore, surprising to see the urgency displayed by Trai in the matter, with consultation process initiated at such an early stage and despite the fact that the matter is sub-judice in various courts of law,” he said.

COAI cautioned that such a move by Trai would not only impact the rural rollouts but also result in loss of the revenues to operators and government exchequer.

Three of the telecom companies (telcos) have challenged the earlier interconnect charge decision by the Trai in the court and it is before the Supreme Court.

“One of the points we have raised is that when it (interconnect charge issue) is before the court, it would be inappropriate for the Trai to ask for responses on those issues through a consultation paper,” said Mathews.

The COAI has also raised concerns over Trai hurrying into coming out with regulations on charges for termination of Internet telephony calls and setting new parameters of call drops.

The GSM players’ organisation has also accused Reliance Jio of masquerading “full-blown and full-fledged services” as test services and its 1.5 million subscribers choking the network of legacy telcos.

Reliance Jio, which is looking to launch it 4G, long-term evolution (LTE) and voice over LTE (VoLTE) soon, has began testing the services since December last year. Its beta phase will be on till the end of this month.

However, RJIL has alleged that with incumbent telcos not facilitating it with point of interconnect (PoI), where the call connect, its quality of service was suffering.

Mathews said the incumbent operators felt it was not appropriate to provide access to Reliance Jio to their PoI when they have not launched commercial services.

“It’s only when you launch commercial service that you are entitled to ask for required bandwidth. You cannot be testing and then ask for any type of bandwidth you want,” he told dna.

Reliance, in a letter to the telecom secretary on Wednesday, had said by not facilitating with adequate PoI, the incumbents were violating the Clause 6.2 of the Unified License that mandated all operators to provide interconnect.

Mathews said their interpretation of the clause differed a bit; “It just says that every operator is entitled to do testing. Our point is you cannot masquerade commercial services as testing, with 1.5 million customers put on your network for almost for six months. That passes any understanding of commercial”.

Mathews said that Reliance Jio’s test trials should not involve other players.

“We are saying we should not be involved in their testing. From a technical perspective, you can do testing on your own network without having to connect to other’s network, if load factor testing is the matter. For example, when Microsoft wants to do load testing on a software, it doesn’t flood the market with test emails. There are ways of testing load factor on your network,” he said.

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