Reliance Jio vs incumbents : Trai seeks daily updates on network congestion

Trai chairman RS Sharma meets officials of Airtel, Vodafone and Idea who alleged violation of tariff order by Reliance Jio

Telecom regulator Trai on Friday said it has sought daily reports from operators on congestion at points of interconnection. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Telecom regulator Trai on Friday said it has sought daily reports from operators on congestion at points of interconnection. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

New Delhi: In a move that could further escalate tensions in the telecom sector, India’s top telecom companies flocked to the regulator on Friday with complaints against the tariffs offered by new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, only to be told to furnish daily reports on network congestion levels pending sorting out of the points of interconnection (PoI) issue.

Representatives of Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd, along with a representative of Telenor India, met the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman to express concern about Jio’s aggressive pricing impacting the health of the sector.

The telcos said Jio’s tariffs were at variance with Trai’s 2004 order that tariffs should be non-predatory, non-discriminatory and interconnection usage charge or IUC-compliant.

On his part, Trai chairman R.S. Sharma brought up the issue of PoIs.

Predatory pricing and PoIs were the two topics that were discussed in the meeting, Sharma said in a phone interview.

“Telcos said Jio tariffs are predatory, discriminatory and do not comply with interconnect usage charge. We will examine the matter,” he said, and added, “We have requested them to give a daily congestion report till the issue of PoIs is resolved”.

The dispute is centred around Jio’s offer of free data to customers till the end of the year. The incumbents claim that under current tariff norms, a telco can’t offer freebies for a period longer than 90 days.

Jio formally launched its services on 5 September.

Earlier, Trai sought data on network congestion levels between 15 and 19 September to assess whether there are efforts to prevent completion of calls from Jio to other networks.

The data submitted by telcos suggested that the call failure rate is as high as 84% (in some cases) and this is only because of the PoI issue and not because of the new entrant’s weak network.

The move comes even as Jio and Airtel continue to spar.

The former claims the latter hasn’t provided enough PoIs, where calls are handed over from one network to another. Airtel’s counter is that Jio is creating a controversy over PoIs to mask inadequacies in its own service.

“Today, we have communicated to them verbally. We will also write to them shortly,” said Sharma.

Mint on 23 September reported that Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India 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 Jio.

Sunil Sood, chief executive of Vodafone India, told reporters that Sharma had assured the telcos that the regulator will examine the matter and revert at the earliest.

“It was basically about TTO (telecom tariff order)... He said he is already examining the matter,” said Sood.

To be sure, Trai has maintained that it will not intervene in tariffs as lower pricing benefits consumers. It is also of the opinion that predatory pricing is usually done by dominant players in the market in a competitive scenario, while in this case Jio is a new entrant in the market.

“These are relevant points,” Sharma said. “We will look into the legal aspects before arriving at a decision.”

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