Mar 18, 2016, 07.33 PM | Source: CNBC-TV18
In an interview with CNBC-TV18, RS Sharma, TRAI Chief said that the regulatory authority will conduct another test in April on the call-drop issue.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will comply with the Supreme Court order on call drop case, says RS Sharma, TRAI Chief.
His comment came after the apex court on Thursday asked the telecom regulator to reconsider its decision to penalise telecom companies for call drops.
In an interview to CNBC-TV18 he said TRAI will conduct another test in April on the call-drop issue.
He refrained to further comment on the call drop case as it is sub-judice.
Below is the verbatim transcript of RS Sharma's interview with Shereen Bhan on CNBC-TV18.
Q: I know you are constrained because the matter that I am going to talk to you about is subjudice but nevertheless, let me ask you to comment on the observations that were made by the Supreme Court yesterday on the back of what our court reporters are reporting and I am going to quote what they said, "The Supreme Court observed yesterday that it appears that nobody has seen the technical papers on the day of framing the regulation", you passed the order on the call drop penalty in October. A technical paper of the TRAI which released a month later, which suggested that call drops are not necessarily only on account of poor quality of service providers. The court then also goes on to say, "Please tell us in an affidavit whether you will consider amending the regulation or you still want to stand by them". Is there a scope for reconsideration at all?
A: Let me first say that because the matter is subjudice, pending before the Apex court of the country, it will not be appropriate for me to make any kind of observations. The only observation which I can make is that the orders of the Supreme Court shall be carried out that is what I can say.
Q: Which means that you will be filing an affidavit, you will not tell us.
A: Whatever has been ordered by the Supreme Court shall be complied with.
Q: Let me ask you then about the points that the SC raises and I will ask you to comment on that and that is the argument that telecom companies have also made in court as part of their representation and this is something that your own technical paper also highlights in the month of November that call drops could not be blamed merely on service providers, there are a whole bunch of other issues. Would you at least agree that perhaps there is room to reconsider given the fact that telecom service providers are not only to blame for the call drop situation?
A: As I said to you, it is a matter pending in the court and whatever argument will be made on the side on behalf of the TRAI will be made in the court of law.
Q: Do you believe that this has maybe pushed you on the backfoot, it is a little bit of an embarrassment as far as TRAI is concerned?
A: I will refrain from making any comments whatsoever on that issue except that the SC's orders shall be complied with.
Q: Let me ask you about what the situation currently looks like as far as call drops are concerned. You have had the telecom operators provide you with data, you have done your own auditing in the month of December-January if I remember correctly but it didn’t show any significant improvement. Where do things currently stand today?
A: We are going to conduct another test in the month of April and we will find out because we do periodic tests in a number of cities and last time we did seven of them and we will find out whether there has been any significant improvement or not. As you rightly said, there was no improvement when the tests were done in December. Let us see whether there is any improvement.
Q: Has there been any improvement in the situation where sell towers have been sealed, where the government has said that you can set up towers on government land, have you seen any follow-up action on that front?
A: This is an issue, which is pending in the SC.
Q: But you can give us an updates on whether or not the government's land being used to set up towers is being followed through on?
A: The basic argument, which I can say is that nowhere in the licensing conditions of the telecom service providers is it provided that the government will make the land available for the towers or the government will make other kinds of things.
Q: But that has gone on record to say that they will do that?
A: That could be a facilitation but essentially it is not a part of the contract and if you have legal issue, you go by contract.
Q: So you are saying that it is not part of the contract but the government has said it also wants to play facilitator in this matter, so can we expect some forward movement because this has been the conversation that has been had between telecom operators, the government, the regulator for almost six months now?
A: Let me put it this way. I would have had conversations on this issue but in a different content for different time but not at this moment where the case is pending before the SC.
Q: Let me then move on and talk to you about another issue, which is not pending before the SC -- at least not yet -- and that is the issue as far as the auction is concerned and the pricing for 700 megahertz band. Has there been any further conversation between you and the government because again report seemed to suggest that the DoT panel has found some issues with the methodologies that has been deployed as far as the 700 megahertz pricing is concerned?
A: To my knowledge, we have not got any reference back from the DoT as of now.
Q: But do you believe or do you at least take on board the reservations that have been made by the industry as far as the pricing is concerned, and most saying that this will be a non-starter of an auction if the reserve price stays as is?
A: The issue is that when the TRAI make such recommendations relating to reserve prices, we carry out a very detailed consultation process and the same was done and we also had an open house discussion in which various views were expressed about -- whether to auction or not to auction and what kind of reserve price should be set up. So essentially this whole process for the recommendation has been done after consulting all these stakeholders. So, therefore it will not be appropriate for me to say that whether I agree or disagree because all those views were made before the consultations were on.
Q: Stakeholders will also mean telecom service provider and telecom service providers believe that this is prohibitable and this will lead all of them to pause and re-evaluate even participating in the auction?
A: Telecom service providers are certainly the most important stakeholders in the spectrum auctions and we had consulted every telecom service provider, we have consulted every stakeholder.
Ultimately, in a consultation process of this kind of recommendation, one has to consider the overall sort of inputs from everybody and that is what we have done.
Q: Is there room for the TRAI to review this given the negative feedback that you are getting from as you yourself just pointed out the most important stakeholders in this matter?
A: Negative feedback should not be a reason enough for us to review. It is not they versus TRAI essentially there is a set rule for review of this recommendations by TRAI, which is essentially then the government will give us a back reference if there is any reference, we will consider it as per the set practices and procedures.
Q: So what can we expect now as far as the auction timeline is concerned? You probably had some kind of a conversation with the government on this even though the DoT panel hasn’t come back to you with the reference on the pricing itself?
A: The auction timeline is not in the mandate of TRAI, it is for the government to take a call as to when they want to auction, what they want to auction. As far as our role is concerned, we gave a recommendation on the reserve pricing and that is where our role ends.
Q: Let me ask you for your comments on what the telecom minister or at least the finance minister is hoping this sector will provide by way of revenues in the Budget, a figure of Rs 98,000 crore from the telecom sector not just by way of auctions but on the back of what they provide to the government on an annual basis in any case through levies etc. Do you believe that this is going to be practical?
A: I have no comments to offer on that issue.
Q: One would imagine and one talks to people in private, they believe that this is the gross over estimation?
A: I have no comments to make on this. My role has ended as of now when we made the recommendation on the reserve pricing. Thereafter it is the auction the timings, what they want to auction is essentially the prerogative of the government.
Q: Let me then ask you about an issue that is your mandate and that is to do with the net neutrality regulation. You have already put out your order as far as this discriminatory pricing is concerned and I have to say that the feedback has been very positive, in fact some are going to the extent to say that India may have provided the roadmap to other countries even as far as discriminatory pricing is concerned. There are some concerns though on that front and that has to do with this business of the internet loopholes being misused, your comments on that and do you believe that that is something that there is a need to plug a possible loophole there?
A: No, I do not believe there is any loophole in fact, the regulation is very clear that what cannot be discriminatorily priced. It is also very clear and the area as to what does not fall beyond within the mischief of the regulation or within the domain of the regulation is also very clearly defined by the regulation. So I do not think there is any scope for misinterpretation or there is any loophole.