Upset over criticism against Trai’s decision to cut call connect charges, its Chairman RS Sharma today said questioning the honesty and integrity of the telecom regulatory body and its officials without proof is “unfair”, hurtful and plain “mudslinging”. Defending the decision to slash interconnect rate to 6 paisa a minute from 14 paisa starting October 1 and zero from January 1, 2020, Sharma said in an interview to PTI that the cost of handling calls has been calculated in a transparent manner and the spreadsheets used for doing so are open to scrutiny by anyone. “We welcome constructive criticism. It is a free country. People have the right to their views. But some criticisms have gone beyond normal criticism. They have questioned the honesty and integrity of the authority, and individuals who are part of authority,” he said.
Besides criticism of the decision by big old telecom operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea, Sharma’s predecessor Rahul Khullar has been sharply critical of the move calling it “poor decision” that gives edge to billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s telecom venture, Reliance Jio. “You may be wise and knowledgeable, technically qualified and an expert in economics or public policy. And it entitles you to have a view, but not to call anyone dishonest. I don’t think being wise gives you the right to call anyone dishonest,” Sharma said without taking any names. For the incumbent operators, the charge they collect for allowing a call from a rival network to terminate on their users forms 9 to 15 per cent of their consolidated revenues.
“It is not a fair criticism. It’s mudslinging,” Sharma said, adding, “I don’t think it should be done…Decisions you take as a court, arbitrator or regulator will have different impact on different stakeholders”. On the decision to cut interconnection usage charge (IUC), Sharma said the motive behind the move was to compute cost of handling calls in a transparent manner. “We have maintained that IUC should not become profit centre or profit vertical. We have given excel sheets and method so there should not be any doubt in anyone’s mind on transparency.” he said. The criticism had turned into allegations of bias, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chief said. “This is not the way to conduct debate or conduct your opinions. It is not correct.. it certainly hurts.”