A new entrant to the telecom market has raised concerns that incumbents are not allowing Internet telephony calls on their networks by denying interconnection. The telecom operator has also levelled allegations on the existing networks, barring Reliance and BSNL, that they are going all out to kill the Internet telephony regime because it hurts their top-line and bottom line. Such an allegation is absolutely unwarranted and is avoidable. In a competitive environment one has the right to decide what is good for them, but has no right to enforce their decision on others.
Let us now examine if denial of interconnect to an authorised telecom operator with a valid licence for terminating Internet telephony calls is justified or if is there any ambiguity in the licence or whether it is in violation of interconnection regime?
Licence covers collection, carriage, transmission and delivery of voice and/or non-voice messages over Licensee’s network in the designated Service Area. The Licensee can also provide Internet telephony, Internet services including IPTV, broadband services and triple play i.e voice, video and data. While providing Internet telephony service, the Licensee may interconnect Internet Telephony network with PSTN/PLMN/GMPCS network. The Licensee may provide access service, which could be on wireline and/or wireless media with full mobility, limited mobility and fixed wireless access.
The Access authorisation further provides that, “It shall be mandatory for the LICENSEE to interconnect to/provide interconnection to all eligible Telecom Service Providers (eligibility shall be determined as per the service provider’s License Agreement and Trai’s determinations/orders/regulations issued from time to time) to ensure that the calls are completed to all destinations.”
Thus, two things are clear (1) that Internet telephony is a licenced service and (2) that Internet telephony network can be connected with PSTN/PLMN/GMPCS network. Therefore, the argument that there is lack of clarity on providing interconnect to a licensed operator for Internet telephony calls is not sustainable. The same set of operators today allow the OTT calls to be terminated on their networks without even getting 14 paise termination charge. So, are Internet telephony calls even worse than OTT calls and is this the reason that existing operators are resisting the termination of such calls.
If that is true, then why are the existing operators treating the authorised Internet telephony calls even worse than OTT calls. The answer is quite simple. The authorised Internet telephony operator is legally seeking interconnect, while OTT operators are forcing these calls for termination as they are not governed by any regulation and the existing operators do not command any control on them. So in this particular case, a trespasser is enjoying better rights and privileges than a legally authorised entity.
Moreover, the existing operators by not providing the interconnect are using these arm-twisting tactics to negotiate with the regulator for a higher termination charge, while at the same time ensuring a barrier to entry of new operators to protect their turf .
To correct this situation, two immediate actions are necessary:
First, the regulator must introspect as to why it become helpless whenever such a situation arises. The regulator must intervene to make sure that interconnection is provided to the licenced operators for providing Internet telephony services as per the scope of the agreement. There is a need to re-look interconnect regulations in order to ensure that they are not used by some operators to deprive the customer the benefits of competition.
Second, the department of telecom (DoT) must take some immediate steps to bring the OTT services within the scope of regulation, so that these operators are not allowed to enjoy better terms than the licenced operators. This will not only ensure a level playing field, but will also provide a new stream of revenue to the department in the form of licence fee from such OTT operators.
The author is founder & CEO,Tathya Consulting. Views are personal