The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is likely to stand by its earlier recommendation by which it had levied a penalty of Rs 3,050 crore on the three incumbent operators — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular — for not providing sufficient points of interconnect (PoIs) to Reliance Jio which led to congestion for calls made to and from the latter’s network. Though Trai has still not responded to the queries posed by the Telecom Commission — it needs to do so within

15 days of receipt of the communication so it has time — it is quite clear that the final decision regarding levying the penalty will have to be taken by the department of telecommunications.

On policy matters, DoT is free to take its own course and the recommendations of TRAI are not binding on it.

TRAI sources told FE that it has done its due diligence and is very much within its right to recommend such a penalty if it feels that quality of service parameters are not being adhered to and consumers are suffering. They said that they had sought the opinion of the attorney general who concurred with their views.

“Trai will not change its stand on the issue of PoIs, the calculation of the penalty or whether it can recommend a penalty. When it has the mandate to give recommendations for ensuring compliance of terms and conditions of licences as well as to fix the terms and conditions of interconnectivity between service providers, how can it not recommend a penalty, which is in effect to ensure that such conditions are met,” an official said. According to the official, one of the functions of the authority is to give recommendations for laying down standards of quality of service (QoS) norms for the service providers as well as to ensure their compliance. It also has to conduct periodical surveys of such services that are provided by the operators so that the interest of the consumers is protected.

Last week, the Telecom Commission had unanimously returned TRAI's recommendation for levying a fine by asking a series of uncomfortable questions which suggested TRAI had overstepped its jurisdiction and sort of jumped the gun on the issue.

The Trai recommendation on penalty was sent in October 2016 and was based on the study of congestion data between September 15 and 19.

The TC had for instance asked whether the TRAI took the 90-day period, which is required under law to compute the PoI congestion and if yes, when the clock started. The TRAI, which had taken congestion data between September 15 and 19 had found that congestion level (for calls made to and from Jio’s network) was as high as 96 percent in some of the circles. The Quality of Service norms prescribe that congestion level should not exceed beyond 0.5 percent, which means that out of 1,000 calls not more than five should fail. However, in the present case almost 960 calls were failing, according to TRAI.

Another TC question was that for computing congestion, the average monthly data is taken, not the daily average. This was also the defence of the operators before TRAIi but the latter ignored it, arguing that if daily congestion levels are high, the monthly level could not be any different. The other poser by TC was that TRAI has recommended levying of penalty whereas it has powers to recommend either cancellation of licences or levying financial disincentives. It has no powers to recommend penalties. – Financial Express


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