Even as the latest recommendation by the telecom regulator on mergers and spectrum allocation has thrown the industry intoa tizzy, an analysis of its previous proposals shows that more than half of them are yet to be acted on by the government. Of the 25 recommendations made in the last three years, the department of telecommunications (DoT) has taken action on just 11.
“The government is not obliged to tell us... whether our recommendations will be implemented,” says Nripendra Misra, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). “We do of course try to keep a track of what has been taken up or not, but once the recommendations are sent to the government, it is for them to consider it.”
Most of Trai’s recommendations are made by the regulator on direction from the ministry of communications and information technology or the ministry of information and broadcasting. Though the regulator has the power to make recommendations on its own, just one in 10 are made without government requests.
The regulator gives a platform to all the stakeholders to air their views before framing its recommendations. But some important proposals, such as the ones on number portability and allowing satellite radio in cars, have faced considerable lobbying against them at the government level.
While a senior DoT official points out that Trai is only a “recommendatory body”, analysts point out that having a second round of lobbying and deliberations at the government level causes delays, sometimes indefinite. “If the government has to take all the decisions, what is the point of (having) Trai,” asks Smita Jha, principal analyst for the media and broadcast industry with consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers in New Delhi.
“What we need is a time frame,” says Vishal Malhotra, a New Delhi-based partner with consultant Ernst & Young. He points out that while the law spells out the amount of time—typically, two to three months—for Trai to make its recommendations, there is no such time frame for the government to spell out its stance on the regulator’s suggestions.
Eighteen months after the recommendation was made, industry body Association of Unified Service Providers of India (Auspi) is still “following up to now what has happened to the number portability recommendations”, says its secretary general S.C. Khanna. Auspi represents CDMA (short for code division multiple access) and private landline operators. The recommendation, which sought to allow users to retain their numbers if they switched operators, was issued by Trai in March 2006 and has been “kept in abeyance”, according to a recent statement by information technology and communications minister Andimuthu Raja. No other response or reaction has so far been given to Trai on the fate of the suggestions. Calls to DoT secretary D.S. Mathur’s office for comment were not returned.