Regulators play blame game whilst key DoT roles left fallow

8 Mar 2017

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has responded to criticism from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which placed the blame for declining government revenues from the sector and the deteriorating health of the industry on the TRAI’s inaction regarding potential rule-breaking by newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) with its aggressive promotions. The TRAI has instead pointed the finger at the DoT for refusing to heed the regulator’s warnings, and ignoring its proposed reforms. The Economic Times quotes a senior TRAI official as saying: ‘The regulator has, over a period of time, written several recommendations to the DoT, suggesting reforms such as reduction in licence fee and the universal services obligation fund [payment], relaxing payment for auctions.’ Indeed, the watchdog has recommended several measures intended to provide some relief to the nation’s debt-laden operators in recent years, but such steps have been rejected by the DoT – arguably to ensure that the government maximises its returns from the sector.

The back-and-forth finger pointing from the two agencies over the current crisis also comes at a time when the upper echelons of the DoT have been left critically understaffed, with many of the department’s key positions all lying vacant. Most recently, Telecom Secretary JS Deepak was transferred out of the department last week without a replacement being named, but the other senior positions have been handled on an ad hoc basis since mid-2016. According to the newspaper, the Member (Technology), Member (Finance) and Member (Services) positions have been left unfilled since April-July last year, whilst the Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring Cell (TERM) – which ensures that operators are complying with the terms of their concessions – lost its leadership last month. Officials from the private sector bemoaned the ‘anomaly’, the paper writes, saying that the lack of coherence affected their decision-making process.

As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, the DoT’s Telecom Commission chastised the TRAI last month for ‘jeopardising’ the health of the telecom sector by failing to enforce its own rules on promotional tariffs with regards to Jio’s ‘Welcome Offer’ and ‘Happy New Year Offer’. In its missive, the commission said that the government had lost INR6.85 billion (USD102.19 million) in potential revenue since Jio’s launch in September 2016, adding that it expected returns from the sector to fall by a further 8% to 10%.