Regulators

Being pro-consumer does not mean one is anti-industry: TRAI chairman RS Sharma

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MUMBAI: Outgoing TRAI chairman RS Sharma, whose tenure saw major, at times controversial, decisions on issues like termination charge and predatory pricing, on Wednesday said he is of the firm belief that being pro-consumer does not mean one is anti-industry.

The TRAI Act itself calls for ensuring consumer protection and growth of the sector in equal measure, Sharma said.

"Some people take the line that if you are pro-consumer, you are anti-industry... that is far from the truth. Pro-consumer does not mean anti-industry. It is not a zero-sum game, one should be conscious of that," Sharma told PTI.

The TRAI Act mandates that the regulator has to ensure fair competition, consumer protection and growth of the industry, said Sharma who is set to complete his term as TRAI chief on Thursday.

In the past, decisions by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), ranging from slashing of call-connect charges to its stance on the provision of points of interconnect (sought by Reliance Jio at the start of its services), and predatory pricing rules have come under the industry's attack. 

Earlier this year, TRAI's predatory pricing norms sparked-off a furore as old telecom operators and industry association criticised the new rules.

More recently, industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) raised a red flag over TRAI's new regulations on curbing pesky calls and messages, saying tailoring of systems, and use of blockchain technology will involve Rs 200-400 crore investment and 18 months for the rollout, at a time when the sector is financially-stressed.

Sharma on Wednesday said that "reasonable time" has been given to the telecom operators on norms to curtail pesky telemarketing calls and messages. The rules, he said, came about only after a prolonged discussion with the industry.

"I think reasonable time has been given...My position has been that the regulation has come after a lengthy year-long discussion process. It is not the knee-jerk reaction of TRAI, that it has issued these regulations," Sharma said.

Recounting his early days in TRAI, Sharma admitted that he had initially been somewhat apprehensive on whether the regulatory role would imbibe a developmental aspect.

"... initially, I was a bit apprehensive as I had, through my life, been engaged in developmental work ... I was wondering whether the regulatory role had any developmental facet. But I had the advantage of being in technology space for quite some time, and telecom is more about technology today...I have thoroughly enjoyed this role," he said.

Sharma noted that the telecom sector has undergone a "fundamental change" marked by operator consolidation, the explosion of data and fierce market competition.

"There are concerns about the quality of service and those concerns, unfortunately, remain till date. TRAI has tried to do the best, within the framework of the Act.

There is a new regulation on service quality that is granular and will be helpful...operators have also become sensitive to the fact that they cannot leave one area or tower unattended for long," Sharma said.

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