1. TRAI Imposes Penalty of Rs. 3050 Crore in Reliance Jio Controversy
Recently, telecom sector regulator TRAI has settled the controversy revolving around free voice call services by Reliance Jio (“Jio”). Jio’s tariff plans and free voice call plans has garnered significant criticism from other telecom operators.
Jio in its letter dated 14.07.2016 addressed to TRAI had alleged that Bharati Airtel Limited (“Airtel”), Idea Cellular Limited (“Idea”) and Vodafone India Limited (“Vodafone”) are not providing sufficient inter-connectivity services to Jio which is severely hampering Jio’s test trial services.
In furtherance to the same, TRAI issued show cause notices to Airtel, Idea and Vodafone for violation of License Agreements, Cellular Mobile Telephone Services Regulations, 2009 and Regulations related to Quality of Service. In respect of the these show cause notices, TRAI in its letter dated 21.10.2016 upheld the above mentioned violations and also observed that Airtel, Idea and Vodafone have willfully made these violations with an ulterior motive to stifle competition in the market. TRAI also observed that ensuring effective inter-connection is one of the main functions of TRAI under the TRAI Act, 1997. TRAI has recommended highest possible and separate penalties of Rs.1050 Crore on both Airtel and Vodafone and Rs.950 Crore on Idea for the abovementioned violations. The telecom regulator stopped short of recommending cancellation of licenses of these three telecom operators stating that it may lead to significant inconvenience to consumers.
TRAI has also released a consultation paper to review regulatory framework on interconnection services, spectrum usage, quality of service and roaming services etc.
2. TRAI releases consultation note on nationwide interoperable public Wi-Fi model
TRAI has released consultation note on November 15, 2016, to explore whether model proposed in the note can be incorporated in Public Wi-Fi networks, and to explore the roles of different stakeholders in the Public Wi-Fi network value chain and build an ecosystem for promoting scalable and sustainable partnerships for large scale nation wide deployment. The consultation note suggests that for implementing the inter-operable payment system for Public Wi-Fi it is necessary to have trusted authentication, secure payment information flow supported at pre and post-paid models.
Further, the note proposes a technical structure that would include components such as a registry as a central system having information about the hotspot providers, registration app and hotspot software or service providers. The proposed system involves two flows i.e. registration flow and subscription flow. Certain partnership models have also been suggested in the consultation note. TRAI in its consultation note had invited inputs and suggestions until November 25, 2016.
3. TRAI issues Consultation Paper on Sustainable Telecommunication
On January 16, 2017, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued a consultation paper, on Approach Towards Sustainable Telecommunication and has invited the stakeholders to provide comments by February 13, 2017 & counter-comments by February 27, 2017. In the consultation paper, TRAI has estimated that the carbon emission level from mobiles services has increased significantly in past few years. The regulator has therefore sought industry feedback on ways to compute carbon footprint in telecom networks, and the need to involve third-party auditors. Further, TRAI has also invited suggestions on the suitable formulas to compute carbon footprint from grid power supply and DG Sets. It has also invited views on harnessing renewable energy solutions to make telecom networks more energy efficient.
4. Telecom Sector Gears Up for Major Regulatory Changes
TRAI vide press release dated March 10, 2017 has released a recommendation paper on complaints/ grievance redressal in telecom sector. TRAI has suggested that an office of the Telecom Ombudsman should be established and the rules for establishing the Telecom Ombudsman can be framed by Central Government, which can be similar to Insurance Ombudsman. A 3-stage grievance redressal mechanism is proposed, which includes: Resolution by telecom service providers, Resolution by consumer grievance forum, and Determination by Telecom Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will have the power to levy penalties on telecom service providers, award compensation to consumers, award costs and issue directions to the telecom service providers for the performance of specific obligations. Further, the Ombudsman will have offices at national and sub-national levels.
TDSAT vide order dated March 16, 2017 has further directed TRAI to re-examine Reliance Jio’s free promotional offers. Two appeals were filed by Bharati Airtel & Idea Cellular seeking a stay on Reliance Jio’s free promotional offers. The appeals also sought a stay on TRAI’s approval to Reliance Jio to continue with the free services. Bharati Airtel & Idea Cellular had alleged Reliance Jio’s promotional offers to be in violation of provisions of Telecommunication Tariff Order and IUC Compliances and also raised allegations of predatory pricing, etc. After examining the documents and submissions provided by all the parties, TDSAT observed that there are many un-answered questions which have bearing on contentions of TRAI and accordingly directed TRAI to re-examine promotional offers of Reliance Jio.