India's telecom wars just got really heated up.
The telecom regulator has imposed a fine of ₹50 crore per circle on incumbent operators Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea for failing to provide sufficient interconnection to Reliance Jio, the country's newest telco. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has made a recommendation to this effect to the government, in a communication today to the department of telecom (DoT). The authority has written separate letters addressing Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea.
Reliance Jio's entry into the sector, backed by India's largest private sector conglomerate, has sparked off a tough battle for marketshare as incumbents prepare to hold their turn in the face of aggressive tariffs and claims of faster data by the new entrant. Jio users, however, have been facing congestion on voice calls. The company has said that this is because the incumbent operators were not providing adequate interconnectivity, or the so-called points of interconnection so that calls could end in their networks. This, they have argued, is in violation of the license agreements, and in today's letter, TRAI has upheld this argument.
The regulator found that the violations were against the public interest and warranted the cancellation of the license of the incumbents in all three cases. But in view of the inconvenience this would cause, it was imposing a penalty instead.
The move is bound to spark off counter allegations and appeals as the country will likely witness a tough battle for dominance in the sector.
All the letters have a common structure detailing out the communication provided by Reliance Jio, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and all three carriers. At the end of each letter, TRAI has suggested that all the operators should be fined for the incompliance and inconvenience caused to the customer.
TRAI suggested that Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea has 21, 21, and 19 circles under the purview of the penalty. They have to pay ₹1,050 crore, ₹1,050 crore, and ₹950 crore, respectively, making the total amount of penalty ₹3,050 crore.
Reliance Jio had made several requests to TRAI to look into the matter of network congestion. The issue was causing several crore call drops for Jio customers when they tried to connect to the phones of other networks.