DoT put Trai’s penalty in limbo, but CCI now orders probe into whether Airtel, Voda, Idea abused dominance to deny RJio PoIs
After the telecom ministry put on hold the Trai’s recommendation to levy a penalty on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular for denying RJio points of inter-connection (PoIs), Reliance has found support from the Competition Commission of India (CCI). The CCI has decided to conduct a detailed investigation into charges of cartelisation by Reliance Jio against them.
The new operator had last year in November approached the anti-monopoly body alleging the incumbents were abusing their dominant market power by forming a cartel of sorts and denying it the requisite number of points of interconnect, thereby inconveniencing its customers.
The CCI, sources said, had after admitting the petition asked its director general (investigation) to investigate whether there was a prima facie case against the incumbents necessitating a detailed probe. Since the DG has found merit in Jio’s complaint, CCI has decided to probe the matter.
The CCI’s investigation of Jio’s complaint on PoIs would be the first by the competition regulator. Thus far, it has been the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, which have decided telecom cases.
In February, even Bharti had approached CCI complaining against Jio alleging predatory pricing and anti-competitive behaviour. CCI is yet to take a final call on this. Sources said CCI’s decision to probe Jio’s complaint was admitted under 26(1) read with Regulation 27 of the Competition Commission of India (General) Regulations, 2009.
It has found a violation of Section 3(3)(b) read with Section 3(1) of the Competition Act by the incumbent dominant telecom operators (ITOs), for colluding, using the COAI as a platform, to deny Pols to Jio.
It found that the incumbents had created separate trunk groups by granting one-way PoIs, to mask congestion. The details regarding the grant of PoIs before and after the Trai recommendations is further proof that the incumbents faced no technical difficulty in granting PoIs. After the Trai recommendations, the incumbents granted a large portion of Jio’s requirement, while before this, only a small part was provided.
Expressing its disappointment COAI said, “Though we have not seen the order as it has not been published yet, we are disappointed at the apparent news (if true), that the CCI has decided to go forward with an investigation into the complaint filed by Reliance Jio. In the interim, the matter is also before the High Court and TDSAT and we also await the conclusions from these judicial bodies. We believe COAI and its members will be fully vindicated in the matter and truth will prevail”.
Jio and the three incumbent operators have been at loggerheads even before the former’s commercial launch on September 5, 2016. RJio had alleged the incumbents were not providing it with PoIs needed to connect calls between different networks, causing the majority of its calls to fail.
The matter was arbitrated by Trai after which incumbent operators released more number of PoIs. However, the matter was not settled with both sides indulging in allegations and counter allegations. Subsequently, on October 21, 2016 the Trai recommended a fine of `50 crore per circle against the three incumbent operators for denying sufficient PoIs to Jio. While a fine of `50 crore each for 21 circles was recommended for Bharti and Vodafone, for Idea the same was for 19 circles. This fine has not been implemented since the department of telecommunications has sought clarifications from Trai on the relevant clauses under which the fine has been levied. Trai is yet to reply to the query.
Incumbent operators have defended themselves saying the 90-day period, post the commercial launch of services for providing the demanded points of interconnect, has been complied with. According to them, any data which is taken prior to the 90-day period would not indicate the right picture.
The Quality of Service norms prescribe that congestion level should not exceed beyond 0.5%, which means that out of 1,000 calls not more than 5 should fail. During the period Jio had made the complaint, almost 960 calls were failing.