In a first, Trai will begin in January discussions with telcos and broadcasting companies to draw up and publish an ‘agenda’ of important issues for 2017-18 — a move Chairman RS Sharma says will improve “regulatory predictablity” in the sector. Such a move is also in line with the best practices followed by regulators across the world, including the US, Canada, and parts of Europe.
“What we are proposing is to improve the regulatory predictability — we will identify important issues that would be taken up in the next financial year. We will call telecom operators and stakeholders in the broadcasting sector for meetings, so as to identify the upcoming issues,” Sharma told PTI.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will write to telecom operators shortly to sound them out on the new exercise, which will be followed by meetings in January, he said.
“After that, we will follow some process to take the viewpoints of other stakeholders also, including people (public)…we hope that in early March, we should be able to publish our agenda for the next fiscal year,” Sharma said.
He emphasised that while Trai’s “agenda” would be a broad proactive list, urgent issues would also be taken up during the fiscal as and when they come up even though they may not be included in the list itself.
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Asked if existing key issues such as review of the Interconnection Usage Charges (IUC) regime – on which the consultation process is currently on – would also spill over to the list, Sharma said he expected most of the current issues to get disposed by March 31, 2017.
Hence, the “agenda” would include fresh issues to be taken up by the regulator.
“Many regulators around the world do this…This is one of the practices which regulators follow in various sectors like telecom…Canada does that, US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) does that, some European regulators also do it. So, we are trying to get those best practices here also,” Sharma said.
The issues taken up by Trai during 2016 included free data, net neutrality, improvement of service quality norms for mobile services, internet telephony, proliferation of broadband through public wi-fi networks, Machine-to-machine communications, issues related to closure of access services, Captive VSAT CUG policy issues, and review of the regulatory framework for Interconnection, among others.
However, there was no calender drawn up in advance by the regulator so far, leading some in the industry to comment on the manner in which new issues were being taken up.
Elaborating on its decision to come out with a roadmap of issues to be taken up next fiscal, Sharma said Trai needed to be “ahead of the curve” both in terms of technology and best regulatory practices.
“Since we have a recommendatory role, we also should initiate discussions on cutting-edge technology areas and policy areas…that will require us to be more proactive. Many a times, we become reactive, and many a times tactical takes precedence over strategic. We want to change that,” he said.
On net neutrality, Sharma said that consultation paper on the issue would come out this week.
“It will be a comprehensive consultation paper covering all dimensions of net neutrality,” he said.
After barring differential pricing on internet which ended service of contentious platforms like Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero, Trai in May this year, had issued a pre-consultation paper on net neutrality.
It sought views on aspects such as “What should be regarded as core principles of net neutrality in the Indian context? What are the key issues that are required to be considered so that the principles of net neutrality are ensured?”
Trai had also sought views on the policy and regulatory approach that India should take in dealing with issues relating to net neutrality.
Besides this, the regulator came out with recommendations where it suggested that 100MB free data per month could be given to subscribers in rural and remote areas using government fund.
Trai had also suggested introduction of third party aggregators to provide free data to users in net neutrality compliant model which should not discriminate between telecom service providers or give preference to specific online content.