Indian cellcos Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) have appealed to the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to challenge the Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT’s) decision to levy fines against the pair in relation to the provision of Points of Interconnection (PoI) to Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) following its launch in 2016. The Economic Times writes that the penalties total INR30.5 billion (USD404 million), including INR10.5 billion to be paid by Airtel and INR20 billion to be paid by Vi. Vi’s penalty comprised fines charged against both of its component companies – Vodafone India (INR10.5 billion) and Idea Cellular (INR9.5 billion) – which were separate entities at the time.
As noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, following the launch of Jio mobile services in September 2016 the then-trio of operators were accused of failing to provide sufficient PoIs, with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) claiming that month that more than 80% of cross-network calls from Jio were failing. Defending their stance, the incumbent operators had argued that fully opening up their networks to Jio customers would result in a ‘tsunami’ of calls from Jio’s user base and that the asymmetry caused by Jio’s free calls would congest their networks. From its launch until 31 March 2017 Jio had offered customers promotions that provided customers with unlimited free voice, messaging and data services (data services were capped at 4GB per day until the end of December 2016 and 1GB per day until the end of March). The TRAI sided with Jio and recommended that the DoT impose a penalty of INR500 million per service area where PoI congestion exceeded 0.5%. The DoT belatedly accepted the recommendations in July 2019 but only recently issued notices to the companies.
Commenting on the matter, a spokesperson for Airtel was quoted as saying: ‘We are deeply disappointed with the arbitrary and unfair demand based on TRAI recommendations of 2016 relating to provisions of PoI to a new operator. These allegations were frivolous and motivated. Bharti Airtel takes pride in maintaining high standards of compliance and has always followed the law of the land. We will challenge the demand and pursue the legal options available to us.’