Manoj Sinha Says Government to Look into TRAI’s Proposal to Penalise Incumbents

Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha on Thursday said that the government would look into the proposal of the Trai on penalising Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea for not providing adequate points of interconnections (PoI) to Reliance Jio.

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Sinha’s comments come a day after the Trai’s rejection of the telecom department’s call to reconsider Rs 3,050 crore on penalty recommendation on Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.

Trai recommended penalties of Rs 1,050 crore each on Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India, and Rs 950 crore on Idea Cellular in October last year.

“Let the proposal come; we will look into it. We will decide in proper time,” Manoj Sinha as quoted as saying by reports.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had earlier this week strongly defended its recommendation on incumbents for restricting the availability of adequate points of interconnect (PoIs) to Reliance Jio, which caused significant call failures.

In a detailed response to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) letter, the regulator said these telcos intentionally denied and delayed the provision of points of interconnect to Reliance Jio only to restrict the latter’s entry, which caused a lot of inconvenience to consumers.

The regulator said that the denial of PoIs was aimed at stifling competition, and it should ideally have led to the cancellation of licences.

“The authority considered the fact that revocation of the licence will entail significant consumer inconvenience and, therefore, recommended a penal action of Rs 50 crore per licence area where points of interconnect (PoI) congestion exceeded the allowable limit of 0.5%. Apparently, penalty to a telecom service provider amounts much less in severity than revocation of its licence,” Trai said.

The regulator had said that telcos are bound by licence conditions that make it obligatory on it maintaining Quality of Service and “a breach thereof is liable to be treated as a breach of terms and conditions of the licence”.

“However, the Authority was mindful of the fact that revocation of the licence will entail significant consumer inconvenience and therefore given the larger public interest involved, the Authority recommended a penal action of Rs. 50 crore per circle,” the regulator was quoted as saying.

The telecom regulator also added that these telcos provided PoIs at much shorter notices after its intervention, implying that they were capable of providing such PoIs without any delay.

The telecom department had in February asked the regulator to clarify on almost a dozen points including the basis of which the penalty amount was calculated. The DoT had also asked for clarification on the provision of the law that enabled Trai to impose the penalty.

Replying to the DoT’s query, Trai said there is no provision in the licence or regulations to deny/delay provisioning of PoIs during the test phase. On the contrary, the testing cannot be completed unless sufficient PoIs are provided, it added.

The telecom department will now consider the regulator’s views and take a final decision.

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