The government seems to have adopted a hands-off approach in the current tiff between the incumbent mobile operators — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular — and Reliance Jio Infocomm, where the former have accused the latter of running full-fledged services under the pretext of test services, thus causing loss to the exchequer.
Government officials told FE that after discussions between the department of telecommunications and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the conclusion was that the current licence conditions do not explicitly mention the scope of test services, their duration and whether porting out operators from other operators’ network is permitted or not, and if filing of tariff is required.
So, the DoT is shortly going to send a reference to the Trai seeking its recommendations on what should be the scope of the trial for new telecom operators.
Once the regulator receives the reference, it will likely initiate a debate by floating a consultation paper, inviting comments from the stakeholders, holding open houses and then finalise its suggestions.
The DoT could then frame a policy on it, the sources added. Naturally, all this will take a couple of months.
The officials, however, added that the policy so framed will be implemented prospectively, so the current fracas between the incumbents and RJio could only be resolved either through the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal if either party approaches it or through some mediation by DoT or Trai.
Before the war of letters erupted in public earlier this month with the Cellular Operators Association of India accusing RJio on behalf of the top three incumbent operators, of running its services under the guise of trial services and choking their networks by offering its subscribers free calls, both the DoT and Trai were aware of the issue, the sources said.
In June, around the time RJio started its trial services by offering free connections and services to the public, a complaint went to the Trai stating that it was beyond the scope of test services.
The Trai forwarded the complaint to the DoT on which a response came only in August stating that it was the regulator’s jurisdiction.
The two locked horns then with the Trai telling that the licensing norms are framed by the DoT and the Trai can only interpret it.
Upon interpretation, the latter found that while the licence conditions state that operators can test their networks/services, it does not clearly state its scope, period, whether operators can port out operators during that period, or need to file their tariff with the regulator.
It was then decided between the Trai and DoT that the latter will send a reference and the former will provide for recommendations to bring in clarity on the issue.
The fight between the two sides began at the start of this month with the COAI first writing a letter to the DoT and Trai stating that RJio was running full-fledged commercial operations under the pretext of test services. It said that it has been asking it for points of interconnection far in excess than what is required for such services.
The association, in one of its letters even accused the Trai of being biased against them and bringing out a string of consultation papers favouring new operators.
RJio retaliated by writing that its test services were within the stipulated norms and that it had kept the authorities like DoT and Trai in the loop.
It alleged that the incumbents wanted to sabotage its commercial launch by denying it the required PoIs during the test phase.
Upping the ante, the COAI subsequently wrote to the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Nripendra Misra, seeking appointment with him to present their case.
Though no such appointment has been given to them so far, the COAI team have met the telecom minister Manoj Sinha and DoT secretary, J S Deepak to present their case.
Even Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, of which Rjio is a wholly-owned subsidiary has met the secretary.