Telecom firms face stiff penalties over points of interconnection issue

Airtel, Idea and Vodafone run the risk of having to pay penalties if Trai finds that they are deliberately blocking calls from other networks, including Reliance Jio


Reliance Jio claims some 20 million calls between its network and Bharti Airtel’s are failing every day due to the PoI issue. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Reliance Jio claims some 20 million calls between its network and Bharti Airtel’s are failing every day due to the PoI issue. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

New Delh: Bharti Airtel Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd and Vodafone India Ltd run the risk of having to pay penalties, besides facing cancellation of their licence, if the telecom regulator finds that they are deliberately blocking calls from other networks including Reliance Jio.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) regulations limit dropped calls on interconnect points to five in every 1,000 calls, or 0.5%. Anything beyond will lead to the telcos being held responsible for anti-competitive behaviour.

“We can file a case in the court for non-compliance of the regulation and since it is also non-compliance of licence terms and conditions, DoT (department of telecommunications) has a power to cancel the licence or levy a penalty of up to Rs50 crore,” a top Trai official said, requesting anonymity.

The official added that Trai itself holds penal powers, which it will exercise if a telco is found guilty.

The Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd and the Sunil Mittal-promoted Bharti Airtel Ltd continue to spar over points of interconnection (PoIs), where calls are handed over from one network to another. While Reliance Jio claims that the incumbent telcos have not provided it with enough PoIs, Bharti Airtel has said that Reliance is creating an unnecessary controversy over PoIs to mask inadequacies in its own service.

Caught in this maelstrom are lakhs of new Reliance Jio customers who are unable to complete many of their voice calls. Reliance Jio says some 20 million calls between its network and Bharti Airtel’s are failing every day.

A spokesperson for Bharti Airtel declined comment. Spokespersons for Vodafone India and Idea did not respond to emails.

The controversy surrounding PoIs began after telecom industry lobby Cellular Operators Association of India complained to the telecom department and the Prime Minister’s Office that R-Jio had launched full-fledged services in the guise of a test, and without having interconnect agreements with any of the incumbent telcos or publishing tariffs.

They also accused Trai, which has released a consultation paper on reducing interconnection charges, of favouring R-Jio. Any reduction in such tariffs will benefit new entrants and hit incumbents.

Mint reported on 20 September that the telecom regulator has sought congestion data to check whether attempts are being made to block calls from R- Jio users.

The regulator has sought the information for five days between 15 and 19 September.

R.S. Sharma, chairman of Trai, said that the regulator is looking to resolve the issue soon.

“I am not going into how much they asked for and what is the merit behind it. That is not my question; my question is outcome-based, so essentially, the regulatory requirement I have is that customer must not suffer from call congestion beyond particular level that is 0.5%. If the customers are suffering, then we will take action,” Sharma said.

Sharma declined to comment on the possible action that Trai could take against errant telcos.

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal on Wednesday claimed that his company had already provided around 2,100 PoIs.

There was a demand note from Reliance Jio for 1,000 more PoIs on Tuesday, he said.

“The process is going on. We are opening PoIs at great speed; we have to balance traffic and take care of our customers as well,” Mittal added.

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