The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Friday recommended a fine of R50 crore per circle against the top three incumbent operators — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular — for denying sufficient points of interconnect to Reliance Jio Infocomm resulting in inconvenience to RJio’s consumers as a large number of call attempts resulted in failure.
While a fine of R50 crore each for 21 circles has been recommended for Bharti and Vodafone, for Idea the same is for 19 circles.
Since Trai does not have powers to levy fines, it has recommended the department of telecommunications to levy the same in its capacity as the licensor since these companies have violated their licence conditions. It has said that though the licensor has the powers to revoke the licences for defying directions, it has not suggested such a harsh measure as it would inconvenience a large number of consumers.
The recommendation to levy fines comes after Trai had issued show-cause notices to the three operators towards end-September after finding high levels of congestion in their network leading to call failures made to and from the Jio network beyond the permissible limits.
Since September 30, Trai has been monitoring congestion levels on a daily basis and found that the situation has not improved.
The basic defence of the three companies was that there’s a 90-day period since the commercial launch of services for providing the demanded points of interconnect and that it was not fair for Trai to monitor the congestion level on a daily basis as it should be seen on a monthly basis.
However, Trai has rejected their defence, stating that the operators were trying to stifle competition and arguing that if on a daily basis there’s congestion, how can it be different during a month.
Trai chairman RS Sharma had earlier told FE that based on the data that the regulator had asked from all the operators between September 15 and 19, it found that the congestion level was as high as 96% in some of the circles against the permissible limit of 0.5%.
The Quality of Service norms prescribe that congestion level should not exceed 0.5%, which means that out of 1,000 calls not more than 5 should fail. However, in the present case almost 960 calls are failing, he had said.
Congestion level is different from call drop. In the former, a call does not get connected whereas in the latter a call drops after it is connected. For call drops, the failure should not be more than 2%.
The regulator has no powers to levy penalty on the operators who do not follow its directive. The maximum it can do is to charge them in a civil court.