New Delhi: A day after the department of telecom wrote to telecom companies that the issue of interconnection points between them and Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd were under the purview of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the regulator invited Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd and Vodafone India to discuss the issue on Friday.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a lobby of telecom operators that represents these telcos and others, however, responded that all of its members should be called for the meeting.
“We believe that the issue pertains to all the members of COAI and not limited to the three operators. We, therefore, request Trai to invite all members of COAI for this meeting,” the lobby group wrote to Trai secretary Sudhir Gupta.
COAI and Reliance Jio are currently locked in a row over interconnection points, which enable two operators to connect their networks. Reliance Jio says many of its customers are suffering because the top operators do not provide for sufficient interconnection points. In an interview to The Economic Times on Thursday, Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio’s parent Reliance Industries Ltd, had said that the views of COAI were not the views of the entire industry.
“I didn’t realize until just a few months ago that while it’s an association, the voting rights of the members depend on the revenue of the operators,” Ambani said in the interview. “We have zero revenue, so we are crowded out. Then what happens is that the official or the CEO of the association becomes an employee of the top two or three operators, in essence. If the top two operators control more than 51%, it’s an inherent flaw in its structure. While it is the COAI, its view is actually the view of one or two operators and not the view of the entire industry.”
COAI countered Ambani’s contention: “The comments made with reference to the functioning of COAI are absolutely incorrect and misleading. COAI is a fully democratic association and takes into account the views of all its member operators. On all policy matters, the views of COAI are fully endorsed by all or majority of its member operators,” director general Rajan S. Mathews said in a statement.
“Calling into question the credibility and integrity of the views & opinions of all its member operators is against the spirit of the conduct of members of the Association. We would expect the member partners to take utmost care while talking about the functioning of the association.”
The face-off started when Reliance Jio wrote to Trai chairman R.S. Sharma that COAI had rejected its request to provide additional points of interconnect (POI), to which COAI responded that the telecom companies have provided sufficient POIs to support a customer base of 15-20 million and Reliance Jio at the time had only 2-3 million. Reliance Jio then accused the telcos of breach of licence agreement and requested Trai to take action against them.
On 5 August, Trai issued a consultation paper seeking the reduction of interconnection usage charges, which prompted COAI to write to the telecom department that Reliance Jio was providing full-fledged services masquerading as trials, and urged the department to intervene in the matter.
In a letter on 10 August to telecom secretary J.S. Deepak, Reliance Jio called COAI’s claims “ill informed and malicious”, defending its trials. The company also argued that the top telecom companies hold a subscriber base of 65% of the total, and therefore, it is easy to decipher who shall pay more interconnection charges.
Interconnection charges are paid by one telecom company to another for using the latter’s network to complete calls. Telecom companies except Reliance Jio are against reducing interconnection charges, since it impacts their revenues.
The COAI then on 11 August, wrote a letter to the prime minister’s office (PMO), accusing Trai of being biased towards the new entrant by issuing such consultation papers. On 23 August, the COAI again wrote to the PMO, raising concerns over commercial operations disguised as tests. Following this, Reliance Jio threatened COAI of legal action.