Reliance Jio is making headlines yet again as the telco entered into battle once more with incumbent telcos Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea regarding Interconnect Usage Charges (IUC). Earlier today, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) conducted an Open House discussion on Consultation Paper on “Review of Interconnection Usage Charges.” During this discussion, Reliance Jio urged that there are no reasons in delaying the zero-IUC regime as the voice calling traffic symmetry between the telcos is now achieved. But Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea opposed this argument saying that the current 6 paise IUC charges should stay for at least next three years.
Jio Mulls for Reduction of 6 Paise IUC Charges If Not for Complete Removal
Reliance Jio has been very vocal during the open house discussion conducted by Trai. The Mukesh Ambani-led telecom operator had urged Trai to bring zero-IUC regime at the earliest since the traffic symmetry between the telcos has been achieved. The bill and keep (BAK) regime, under which the zero-IUC charges will come into effect was initially scheduled to become effective from January 1, 2020.
RS Sharma, Trai Chairman, said that the sector regulator would soon come out with a new framework. “We will come up with regulation on IUC as soon as possible,” he said when asked about a timeline, as reported by ET Telecom.
We still have 45 days left for the BAK regime to become effective so Trai may come up with a new regulatory framework before the same. Consultation paper on “Review of Interconnection Usage Charges,” will likely arrive in the next few weeks.
While Trai did not reveal any timeline, telcos had their sayings on the matter. Mahendra Nahata, Director at Reliance Jio Infocomm, who represented the telco at today's open house discussion urged that "delaying the implementation of zero call connect charges beyond January 2020 will hurt affordability of telecom services."
If not for zero-IUC charges, Reliance Jio wants the current six paise IUC charges to be reduced by Trai.
As always, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel opposed the idea from Reliance Jio. Chief Regulatory Officer at Bharti Airtel, Ravi Gandhi, who is also part of the discussion said "One operator should not end up subsidising the other, and therefore when we ask for delaying BAK, we’re only saying that we should be compensated for the work we’re doing, and that is the principle that the authority should adopt.”
Reliance Jio Says Traffic Symmetry Between the Telcos Has Been Achieved
At the same open house discussion, Mahendra Nahata said that the required traffic symmetry between the telcos has been achieved now and there's no point in delaying the implementation of BAK regime. According to Nahata, the ratio of outgoing and incoming voice calling on Jio network is now on par with each other. In April 2017, when the six paise IUC became effective, Reliance Jio had 90% outgoing and 10% incoming. This was the reason why Trai had set the deadline of December 31, 2019, for the implementation of BAK regime.
“The reason of traffic asymmetry is no longer there, for delaying the zero termination charge from January 1, 2020,” Nahata added.
Furthermore, Jio's Nahata alleged that incumbent telcos are diverting their traffic to 2G or 3G networks for showing higher costs for voice. Airtel's representative termed these allegations as misplaced, while Vodafone Idea said it's not holding back customers from porting out to other networks as Mobile Number Portability (MNP) is always available as they believe that alleging a company of holding 2G subscribers is entirely wrong.