Reliance Jio and Tata Tele Services Ltd (TTSL) today opposed in the Delhi High Court the pleas filed by telecom firms Bharti Airtel and Vodafone challenging TRAI’s interconnect usage charges regulations fixing termination charges for landline to wireless as zero paise and wireless to wireless at 14 paise per minute.
Interconnection usage charges (IUC) or termination charges are payable by one telco, whose subscriber makes a call, to another whose subscriber receives the call. The charge is payable by the first for using the second’s network. The counsel appearing for Reliance Jio and TTSL told a bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal that they are opposing the petitions filed by Airtel and Vodafone. To this, the bench said, “We felt that all the service providers are on the same footing.”
However, senior advocate P Chidambaram, who was appearing for one of the petitioners, told the bench that service providers who have less customers are not at “disadvantage” but operators having a large customer base are “suffering” due to the regulation.
He argued that the service providers were incurring loss due to termination charges fixed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regulation. “I have incurred huge amount in my infrastructure. If somebody is using my infrastructure and earning revenue, they have to share it with me and I should also get some revenue out of it,” he told the bench during the arguments which would continue on January 9.
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“Bigger network providers are suffering wider disadvantage,” he said, adding, “Sharing the revenue does not mean that somebody will collect the revenue and will not share it with me. Sharing the revenue can never mean 100 on the one side and zero on the other.”
Chidambaram also questioned the power of TRAI in fixing termination charge as zero.
While the counsel appearing for Reliance Jio said that they are opposing the pleas, TTSL had earlier filed a counter affidavit in the matter saying the regulation under challenge “has already been successfully implemented and is in force since last 16 months i.e. from March 1, 2015”.
Vodafone Mobile Service Ltd had approached the high court in November 2015 after which Airtel had also moved the court seeking quashing of telecom interconnect usage charges regulations issued by TRAI on February 23, 2015.
Airtel has also sought directions to TRAI “to fix termination charges by applying the cost-based and work-done principle on a non-discriminatory basis”.
Vodafone in its plea has claimed that the regulations are illegal, bad in fact and in law, arbitrary and in gross violation of the principles of natural justice, beyond the functions of TRAI.
Vodafone had told the court that the fixation of terms of interconnectivity, which includes the termination charge by TRAI, cannot be zero where costs are incurred by the terminating operator and therefore, the regulations fixing the charge as zero is ultra vires the provisions of the TRAI Act.