An internal committee of the department of telecommunications has rejected the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) 2016 recommendation to levy an aggregate penalty of Rs 3,050 crore on Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular for denying interconnection to Reliance Jio Infocomm leading to inconvenience to the latter’s consumers as a large number of call attempts resulted in failures.
Sources told FE that four members of the seven-member committee have rejected Trai’s proposal to levy penalty, while three have endorsed the penal measure. A final decision on the committee’s report could not be taken by the telecom commission on Thursday as all its members were not present for the meeting.
In October 2016, Trai had recommended that a fine of Rs 50 crore be levied on Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for 21 circles, while a similar amount is levied on Idea Cellular in 19 circles. Thus, the penalty for Bharti and Vodafone was Rs 1,050 each, while for Idea it was Rs 950 crore.
Vodafone and Idea were merged in August 2018 and the merged entity has been christened Vodafone Idea.
Since Trai does not have powers to levy fines, it had recommended that the DoT levy the same in its capacity as the licensor as these companies violated licence conditions.
The regulator had said that though the licensor had the power to revoke the licences for defying directions, it did not suggest such a harsh measure as it would inconvenience a large number of consumers.
The Trai had recommended fines after it issued show-cause notices to the three operators towards end-September 2016 after finding a high-level of congestion in their networks and failures in calls made to and from Jio network beyond the permissible limits.
The three incumbent companies in their defence had said that there was a 90-day period since the commercial launch of services by an operator for providing the demanded points of interconnect and they confirmed to this deadline. They said that it was unfair of Trai to monitor congestion levels on a daily basis and recommend a fine. Ideally, it should have measured congestion on a monthly basis, under which the results would have been different.
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.
The 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 the drop, the failure should not be more than 2%.
The regulator has no power to levy penalty on the operators who do not follow its directives. The maximum it can do is charge-sheeting them in a civil court.