|Trai in trouble|
|Thursday, 09 February 2017 00:32|
Telecom Commission raises uncomfortable queries
Telecom regulator Trai was quick to dismiss the arguments by incumbent telcos like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea on newcomer RJio’s tariffs being predatory and its free services violating TRAI’s rules, but based on questions raised by the Telecom Commission – the highest telecom policy body in the country – it will find it difficult to duck allegations of bias while recommending a Rs 3,050 crore penalty be imposed on the incumbents for not providing enough points of interconnection (PoI) to RJio. Last year, in October, after RJio alleged not getting enough PoIs was leading to large call drops on its network, Trai studied the PoI congestion between September 15 and 19, and said the incumbents were in violation of the Quality of Service (QoS) norms – it found congestion levels for calls made to and from RJio's network was as high as 96% in some of the circles against the permissible limit of 0.5%. As the Telecom Commission (TC) has rightly suggested through its questions, the penalty was odd since the rules allow a 90-day window in which the PoIs are to be provided while the incumbents had provided these well within the time-frame. Also, since congestion levels are usually computed as a monthly average, TC has asked TRAI whether it used daily averages.
Oddly, while Trai was quick to recommend a penalty on incumbents for not providing enough PoIs, just a few weeks after this, it floated a consultation paper asking whether the 90-day period needed to be compressed – since Trai’s penalty decision meant it felt the 90-day period was too long, why did it float a consultation later? Also, since Trai knew of the 90-day rule and knew a big player like RJio was going to be entering the market, surely it needed to come out with unambiguous rules on PoI much earlier?
Though Trai has chosen not to address either the allegations of the asymmetric traffic arising from RJio’s services nor that of RJio’s predatory pricing driving traffic volumes to unheard of levels – Bharti Airtel has taken Trai to Tdsat on this – these are deeply integrated with the issue of PoIs and congestion. If Vodafone with its 202 million customers has no problem with the 40,673 PoIs provided by Bharti Airtel, but RJio with just 72 million customers finds the 35,000 PoIs insufficient, clearly the issue is related to the traffic per customer and that, in turn, is influenced by whether the tariffs are below-cost – thanks to the extended offer, in fact, RJio’s services are free right now. That means, it will be critical for Tdsat and the Competition Commission – it has just been approached by Bharti Airtel – to give their ruling on the issue at the earliest.