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Interconnect tussle: Vodafone, Airtel, Idea may move court against proposed Rs 3,000-cr penalty

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MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) plans to impose a heavy penalty on three major telecom operators for failing to provide adequate interconnectivity to RJio even as operators attempted to comply with the rules. Jio had written to the TRAI seeking action against incumbent operators for not giving an adequate number of interconnection points.

Several thousand customers of Reliance Jio’s new 4G network were facing disruption in service due to shortage of interconnection with other operators for some weeks now. TRAI had earlier called Idea Cellular, Airtel, Vodafone and Jio for a meeting. Point of interconnection, the place where two networks connect, is needed for seamless communication when a user of one operator calls a user of another operator.

TRAI has now proposed penalties on Vodafone India, Bharti Airtel, and Idea Cellular for denying interconnection to Reliance Jio Infocomm (RJio), the new entrant into telecom space in India.

The three incumbent operators meanwhile may take a legal recourse to challenge TRAI’s suggestions. A source from one of the operators told the Hindu, it was ‘surprising that RJio’s network was having congestion in all the circles’.

TRAI has suggested levying of a ₹50-crore penalty per circle on the three incumbent players, which could total more than ₹3,000 crore. According to TRAI, Airtel and Vodafone have to pay ₹1,050 crore each, and Idea Cellular ₹950 crore. The penalty has been imposed for violating quality of service norms.

RJio had written to TRAI seeking action against incumbent operators for not giving an adequate number of interconnection points on July 14 and July 15, to which TRAI had communicated to all three operators on July 19 to do the needful.

According to RJio, it is targeting 100 million subscribers, for which it had approached existing operators seeking adequate interconnection. “Instead of augmenting the PoIs, other operators are blocking the PoI augmentation on various unreasonable grounds,” RJio said in a letter to DoT.

However, incumbent operators initially refused to give these points of interconnection. The operators earlier said they could not release more interconnections because RJio was allegedly bypassing regulations by offering full-fledged services under the guise of test connections.

However, after a meeting between the rival operators, hosted by TRAI, the incumbent operators started releasing points of interconnection. Though this eased the congestion on RJio’s network, the operator said that a majority of calls on its networks were still dropping.

Meanwhile, the three incumbent operators may take a legal recourse to challenge TRAI’s suggestions. According to sources from one of the operators, it was ‘surprising that RJio’s network was having congestion in all the circles’.

Under the licence conditions, operators are required to offer interconnection to each other. TRAI has set a cap of 14 paise as the interconnection charge, which means that operators on whose network the call originates have to pay that fee to the operator on whose network the call terminates. However, incumbent operators have refused to give interconnection.

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