New Delhi: The Digital Communications Commission (DCC) on Monday approved levying a penalty on Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd for allegedly denying interconnectivity to Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd in 2016.
It, however, asked the telecom regulator to review the recommended ₹3,050-crore penalty, given the stress in the telecom sector.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in October 2016 recommended a penalty of ₹1,050 crore each on Airtel and Vodafone, and a ₹950 crore fine on Idea. Since Vodafone and Idea have been merged, the new entity will have to bear the combined burden. The recommendation came on a Jio complaint that more than 75% of calls on its network were failing as its rivals were not releasing sufficient number of points of interconnect (PoI).
“DCC has agreed to impose penalty on Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea for not providing points of interconnection to Reliance Jio. However, the Commission has decided to take Trai’s view on revising quantum of penalty in the backdrop of stress in the sector," PTI reported, quoting a person it did not identify. The DCC, formerly called the Telecom Commission, is the top decision-making body in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
A DCC member’s proposal to impose a penalty on Reliance Jio as well for “failing to deliver quality service to customers" did not find favour with the majority of its members, the PTI report said.
“A secretary from a nodal ministry said the penalty should be apportioned and applied on RJio as well. His point was whether responsibility of providing quality of service by a primary licence holder be shifted on others. However, DCC members did not agree to the view of imposing penalty on Jio," PTI quoted the person as saying.
The telecom secretary is the ex-officio chairperson of DCC and the panel’s full-time members include DoT’s additional secretary, member (finance), member (services) and member (technology). NITI Aayog’s chief executive officer, Department of Economic Affairs secretary and Ministry of Electronics and IT secretary are part-time members of the body.
Calls made to Bharti Airtel and Vodafone-Idea for comment went unanswered.
Interconnection is at the heart of a landline/mobile service since a call can start only when the service provider of the “called party" allows the service provider of the “calling party" to interconnect or terminate the call on its network. Unless there is an agreement between the two service providers on this, a person will not be able to call another user. A PoI can handle 10,000-12,000 calls at a given time.
Jio had commercially launched its voice and data services in September 2016, but kept them free till 31 December. Its services were nearly free for even longer. The entry of Jio and its cheap data plans attracted millions of users, resulting in an unprecedented amount of traffic from its network to other service providers.
As rivals struggled to release adequate PoIs to absorb the massive traffic flowing from the Jio network, the company alleged that the incumbents were doing this to deliberately thwart emerging competition, something the long-established operators have all along contested.