Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal on Wednesday said the Indian telecom industry needs to settle the issue of Reliance Jio‘s free tariffs, adding that “nothing can be free for a lifetime.” The telecom czar also urged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to look into Jio’s free services. His comments however follow the regulator’s clean chit to Jio’s tariff plans.
Incumbent telcos claim that free voice services for life are against the Telecom Tariff Order as it means offering a service even below the interconnect usage charge of 14 paise a minute. The regulator had recently suggested hefty penalties on Bharti Airtel, along with other incumbent telcos- Vodafone and Idea Cellular amounting to Rs 3,050 crore for denying points of interconnect to Reliance Jio. It added that action of these telcos showed “ulterior motive to stifle competition”.
Speaking on the sidelines of an event here organised by GSMA, Mittal said his company would respond to the government and the regulator regarding the penalties slapped on it. “Trai must have some confusion regarding the PoIs offered to Reliance Jio,” Mittal said.
Bharti Airtel MD and CEO for India and South Asia Gopal Vittal, during analyst call today said that the company is aware of proposed penalty. “We believe there is confusion here. We will find way to go back to Trai and DoT. We are very confident that government will take a very objective position in the Herculean efforts we have put to resolve this issue.”
In similar letters to the three players, Trai recommended a penal action of Rs 50 crore per licence service area (LSA) (except Jammu & Kashmir) where PoI congestion exceeded the allowable limit of 0.5 per cent as reported by Airtel/Vodafone/Idea Cellular through emails on September 23 this year. In the case of Airtel and Vodafone, the fines imposed were for 21 LSAs, amounting to Rs 1,050 crore each while in the case of Idea, the fine was Rs 950 crore for 19 LSAs.
“It is part of our regulatory obligation that we provide connect. At the end of the day it is our job to fight in the market and serve customers better. So this is a non-issue,” Vittal said, adding that there is lot of augmentation that Airtel has done on points of interconnects.
“We have never seen that kind of augmentation that we have ever done in the past… the interconnection ports that Airtel has provided per million of customers is more than 2.5 times than of any other operator in India,” Vittal added.
He further claimed that the regulation allows 90 days to all these augmentation and Airtel has done it literally in 5 weeks.