DoT Panel to Decide Proposed Rs 3,000 Crore Penalty by Trai on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Today

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The Digital Communications Commission, an inter-ministerial panel of the Department of Telecom, will examine the Trai recommendations of a penalty of Rs 3,000 crore on the allegation of breach of quality of service licensing condition against Airtel, Vodafone and Idea who had not merged then as well as a VRS scheme for struggling PSU, MTNL. The second meeting of the DCC will undertake an examination of a Trai recommendation of 2016, October 21, on issues related to violation of provisions of the license agreement and the standards of Quality of Service by Airtel, Idea and Vodafone, a DoT's agenda for the meeting stated.

"Revival of MTNL through the introduction of VRS, refund of interest on the surrendered broadband wireless spectrum (BWA) and debt restructuring by monetisation of land and building assets of MTNL will be taken up in the 2nd meeting of the DCC on February 21", the DoT memo stated.

MTNL which operates in Delhi and Mumbai has employee strength of 23,000. The PSU is in such a dire state that it can't even pay salaries and has sought a revival package.

On the penalty, the case goes back to 2016. The highest decision-making body is expected to finally take a call whether to accept the recommendations made by the telecom regulator over slapping a huge Rs 3,050 crore fine on three bleeding incumbent telecom players for not giving points of interconnections (PoI) to new operator Reliance Jio.

In October 2016, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had recommended imposing penalties on the three operators as they didn't provide enough POIs to Reliance Jio, which resulted in poor quality of services. PoIs allow calls to transfer from one network to another.

A source said the Trai ruling might be accepted after attorney general and the legal cell of DoT give the go-ahead. But this could not be verified. If the penalty is slapped, it is sure to be challenged in the court.

The DCC will consider reimbursement of the interest component of Rs 2,800 crore on a loan it had taken earlier to acquire the BWA spectrum and also to fund its proposed Rs 1,100 crore VRS programme.

MTNL is struggling with Rs 20,000 crore debt and Rs 833-crore loss in the Q3 of the current fiscal. The part of prime lands in Delhi and Mumbai if sold can fetch MTNL about Rs 500 crore, according to MTNL officials.

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