TRAI met up with telecom companies earlier this month to set agenda for 2018. Issues such as internet of things and framework for data-related issues were discussed., RS Sharma, Chairman of TRAI said.
Even as telecom industry newcomer Reliance Jio and incumbent players duke it out in other areas, one of the contentious issues between them is close to being resolved.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) Chairman RS Sharma told CNBC-TV18 Monday that the points of interconnect (PoI) issue has improved considerably, especially with Vodafone and Idea while Airtel still has some congestion in some circles.
The PoI row emerged last year after the launch of Reliance Jio services, in which the operator's free calls offer ran into problems of calls not going through to other networks.
Jio accused rivals of not providing it with enough PoIs, which are crucial for calls to go from one network to another while the older players said the company's free calls offer was resulting in assymetric call volumes.
In the CNBC-TV18 interview, TRAI chief Sharma also talked about the regulatory body's meeting with telecom companies earlier this month to set agenda for 2018. "Issues such as internet of things and framework for data-related issues were discussed," he said.
TRAI has also set up a committee including all stakeholders and officials to look into current regulations and how they can be improved.
Sharma refused to comment on the recent news of a possible merger between Vodafone and Idea.
Below is the verbatim transcript of RS Sharma's interview Prerna Baruah on CNBC-TV18.
Q: First question on the potential merger of two of the biggest and serious telecom operators - Vodafone and Idea Cellular. Your comments on how would this potential merger change the game for the telecom industry?
A: I have no comments to make. It's purely a business decision and essentially regulator has no role to play in this.
Q: From the consumer standpoint do you think that the consumers will benefit because we have seen a pricing war being played out in the last couple of months. Do you think more stability into the market?
A: Let me say this upfront that I will refrain from making any comments on this particular issue because I really have no comments to make or a regulator has no role to play as of now, so I will not make comments on issues in which I have no role to play.
Q: Let's shift focus on the telecom sector; several alarming issues at this point of time right from the point of interconnect issue that is hampering the sector at this point in time. It was only limited to telecom operators but now they have even moved court, taking Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to court over proposing for a penalty though the Department of Telecom (DoT) is taking into consideration, they are yet to reply as far as the penalty is concerned, they have got attorney-general (AG) opinion on the same and we understand that they will soon discuss with TRAI whether the 90 day timeframe was taken into consideration at this point in time. So what are your comments at this point in time, where do things stand?
A: On the point of interconnect TRAI has taken all the steps which was required to take under the law as we have done our duty and we continue to do our duty because we believe that interconnect is at the heart of telecom network operations, so we are taking steps and we are meeting all the stakeholders to ensure that the consumers do not suffer. We have always maintained that these interconnect issues are not issues between company A and company B. These are largely issues which affect the consumers and therefore TRAI is very conscious of that fact and we have been trying to resolve the issues within the extent law.
Q: Where do things stand at this point in time as far as points of interconnection (POI) is concerned?
A: The data relating to the point of interconnection congestion, we have made it public also and we continue to monitor, things are much better now than they were some time back. I believe the two operators - their point of interconnect congestion is almost zero and third is also in a few circle and we continue to monitor the situation.
Q: So things have improved as far as PoI is concerned?
Q: The AG has given its go ahead to DoT that DoT is capable of penalising telco. Have they sorted any clarity from the regulator?
A: Let me put it this way, as I explained to you, TRAI has done what it as suppose to do on what it consider to be the best judgement. Thereafter it is for the DoT and further action is not to be taken by TRAI and therefore, I have no comments to make on what action is to be taken by others on our recommendations.
Q: You did release a consultation paper not only reviewing the interconnection usage charges (IUC) but of course the consultation was in terms of the framework for interconnection framework is concerned, so that is pending. The comments closed last October and for the framework of interconnection the comments closed last December. We are still waiting in terms of regulations from TRAI's point of view. Do you still in terms of TRAI's stance on why the penalty was proposed because when the operators were denied point of interconnection, do you still confirm to your stance?
A: This is not a question of confirming to my stance. Whatever stance we have to take or whatever was to be done, has been done or we will continue to be done whatever is required to be done. So let us not make comments or counter comments on that.
Q: You met the telecom CEOs earlier this month. It was first of its kind exercise that you held with the telecom operators. You did discuss about what lies ahead in terms of regulatory predictability for the telecom sector. What were the top three concerns?
A: This is the first of its type kind of meeting which we had and our thoughts are that many times the important issues are left out when we start dealing with urgent and immediately pressing issues. So we thought it will be a good idea to set down the broad agenda for the calendar year and therefore we thought it will be a good idea to consult with the stakeholders. The meeting in the first week of January was a part of that exercise and we put up five or six issues before the operators and then they also gave some suggestions and some good agreed list of issues which we will deal in the calendar year have come out and that is a good development which has taken place.
Q: If I may ask, what were the top key agendas set for the year?
A: There are number of issues which are basically let us say internet of things - that is one part, framework around various data related issues, then of course we also agreed to have a committee, a joint committee of these stakeholders, the operators, and other players and the TRAI officials to essentially look into the adjusting regulations and find out if there are regulations or orders which have become obsolete or which need to be sort of relooked into. So, that identification will actually bring about that if there are laws or regulations which are no more required or obsolete or need to replaced, we will look into that.
Q: Which means amending the existing laws?
A: Right. If there is a need, those ones which are irrelevant or which have become obsolete in some since because a lot of new technology, this is a highly technology intensive sector and a lot of things continue to develop and therefore many times these technologies or the processes become obsolete and therefore it is necessary to have a relook so as to remain and stay correct.
Q: What about net neutrality, wasn’t this on one of their top priorities because as you said, the world is watching us as far as net neutrality is concerned? Of course it is a contentious issue, it is a wide issue, you did release a pre-consultation paper due to this and now the consultation is currently on. What was really kept in mind while drafting the consultation paper?
A: Before I answer that question, let me say that this agenda meeting did not really concede of the existing consultation. So, for example, we have a consultation on the interconnect user charge framework, there were couple of consultations which are on-going consultations, we have closed many consultations like one on free data, and we are likely to close other consultations like public Wi-Fi, hotspots, and those issues.
So, that is not really a part of the agenda. Net neutrality as you are aware is an extremely important issue and we are very careful to see that no aspect of net neutrality is left out and therefore in order to ensure that the complete consultation paper is comprehensive, we had done a pre-consultation and then we have now released a consultation paper and it is on and you are invited to give your views to those papers.
Q: There are many spill-overs since 2016, many consultations are pending, many consultations are currently open for commence, many have been closed, so may I ask you what would be TRAIs priorities for the coming year, in the next few months, where could we see – which consultations could we see coming up?
A: All the consultations which were sort of open at the end of last calendar year, all those will probably be closed by the end of this financial year, by end of March certainly because many of them, we are going to have open house discussions. As you know, we believe in consultation, we believe in consulting all these stakeholders, taking their views and therefore the TRAIs process is absolutely transparent. It may be a little slow, it may seem to be little slow because every consultation takes about four to five months from the start to finish, but we believe that this is the right way to go.