With the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) sticking to its gun and refusing to lower the quantum of `3,050-crore penalty it had recommended be levied on incumbent operators, the digital communications commission (DCC) will be meeting on July 16 to take a final call on the matter.
Since Trai does not have powers to levy fines — it can only make a recommendation to this effect — the final call needs to be taken by the DCC (formerly telecom commission), which is the highest decision-making body of the department of telecommunications.
On June 17, the DCC, while approving a Trai proposal for imposing penalty on operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea for not providing sufficient points of interconnection to RJio in 2016 when it had commenced operations, had asked the regulator to consider revising the quantum as the sector is under a financial stress.
Earlier in February, a seven member internal committee of DoT had rejected by 4:3 Trai’s recommendation to levy the penalty and left the final decision on the DCC. The Trai had recommended that a fine of `50 crore be levied on Bharti Airtel and Vodafone each in 21 circles, while a similar amount be levied on Idea Cellular in 19 circles. Thus, the penalty for Bharti and Vodafone was `1,050 each while for Idea it was `950 crore.
Since August, 2018, Vodafone and Idea have merged and christened Vodafone Idea.
The Trai had recommended fines after it had issued show-cause notices to the three operators towards end-September 2016 after finding high level of congestion in their network leading to call failures made to and from the Jio network beyond the permissible limits.
The three incumbent companies in their defense had said that that there is 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, where 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 drop, the failure should not be more than 2%.
The regulator has no powers to levy penalty on the operators who do not follow its directive. The maximum it can