Consumer interest comes first and the country's telecom regulator will continue to allow operators to fix their own tariffs at the upper end and bottom end of prices, said Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma.

Telecom operators such as Vodafone and Idea have accused TRAI of being partial to new entrant Reliance Jio by allowing its promotional offers to run for too long.

"Pricing has been under forbearance,” Sharma said. “I can’t be unjust to consumers. Forbearance means forbearance from both sides – top and bottom. We have no plans to touch that policy. However, we will continue to take appropriate decisions."

Sharma said that the TRAI policy covered voice as well as data services. He said consumer interest and redressal of consumer grievance was one of the foremost guiding principles of the regulator which it could never overlook.

He added that the regulator had no powers to impose penalties on operators and it was up to the government to decide on empowering the regulator.

"It's for the government to take a call on changing the law. We have no mechanism to enforce what we are supposed to ensure. I should have the power to impose penalty, financial penalty,” Sharma, a 1978 batch Indian Administrative Service officer of Jharkhand cadre, said.

Speaking on the poor speed of broadband services and poor penetration of those services in India, Sharma said the regulator favoured use of cable TV to provide broadband to address the twin issues.

"Our recommendation to Department of Telecommunications is to treat wireline and wireless separately and exempt wireline revenues from licences fees for five years. Use of cable TV for broadband will also lessen the load on spectrum," he said, adding studies had proved that such a move would be revenue neutral.

Sharma, who was earlier IT Secretary and Director General and Mission Director of the Unique Identification Authority of India, said penetration of quality broadband services was a subject close to his heart and a lot remains to be done in that area. He cited data points to prove India was behind even its neighbours like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on some of the quality parameters of broadband services.

As far back as December 8, 2010 TRAI had recommended to DoT to set 2 mbps as minimum speed of broadband that service providers could offer their customers. India still defines broadband as having a speed of 512 kbps whereas countries like South Korea and Singapore have average broadband speeds of 25 mbps and 9 mbps, respectively.

The Chairman said there are seven to eight broad subjects that the regulator would work on in 2017-18. These are ease of doing business, revision of tariff framework, figuring out obsolete laws, finalising recommendation on net neutrality, working in the space of new concepts like machine-to-machine application and Internet of Things.

"Approach of TRAI is through consultation. Growth of industry, quality of service, transparency, consumer grievance, these are our broad overarching objectives," he said.

Touching on the issue of portability in direct-to-home services, Sharma said the switch from one service provider to another without changing the set-top box was technically feasible and the regulator had found a design for it.

"We have engaged C-DoT (Centre for Development of Telematics). There’s substantial progress. We are going to review the work. We are near the first interesting solution," he said.

He said the regulator had taken several pro-consumer measures that ensured fair play and consumer protection while removing arbitrariness. – Money Control


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