TRAI unlikely to lower interconnection penalties

28 Jun 2019

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) may have its hands tied regarding the lowering of penalties to be issued to two mobile providers. The Economic Times cites unnamed TRAI officials as saying that it may be powerless to comply with a recent request from the Digital Communications Commission (DCC) to reconsider the value of fines to be imposed on Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel for failing to provide sufficient points of interconnection (PoI) to sector newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) when it launched in September 2016. The official explained that whilst it agreed that ‘penalties should be commensurate with the violation’ there was no mechanism to determining ‘what penalty should be imposed for what violation of licence condition’. They went on to note that the TRAI had made a recommendation to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in the past to grade penalties, but the ministry had not picked up the proposal.

As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, earlier this month the DCC approved plans from the TRAI to impose fines totalling INR30.5 billion (USD441 million) on the pair: at the time of the infraction, Vodafone comprised Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, both of which were recommended fines. The DCC approved the plan to impose a fine, but asked the TRAI to reconsider the value of the penalty to take into account the sector’s financial stress. Another TRAI official was quoted as saying, however, that the regulator did not have the power to determine the level of financial stress on the industry, saying: ‘Audit and accounts of service providers done by DoT, and the TRAI Act don’t allow us to assess the health of the sector.’