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Reliance Jio allege Trai move to review IUC sabotages Digital India vision

FE Bureau
Reliance Jio, Trai, IUC, Digital India, Digital India vision, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, industry news

Reliance Jio has alleged that the move to review the interconnection charges by regulator Trai is not only arbitrary, unwarranted and anti-poor but it will also adversely affect investor's confidence and sabotage Prime Minister's vision for Digital India. The latest entrant in telecom space also said that the move protects vested interests of some old operators. "It is unfortunate that instead of profiting the poor and marginalised sections of Indian society, the Consultation Paper has chosen to help profiteers in the telecom business," Jio said in response to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai's) move to review the interconnect usage charges (IUC).

The IUC were scheduled to become zero after implementation of ‘bill and keep’ (BAK) regime from January 2020 onwards but now the regulator has decided to review the timeline. The IUC charges currently stand at 6 paisa per minute for mobile to mobile calls. Jio said in its response that any change in implementation of original timeline of January 1, 2020 will end the free voice regime and is likely to increase tariffs which are against consumer interest. Jio has already announced to charge 6 paisa from its customers for making voice calls outside its network. The company has termed it as a temporary measure till there is clarity on IUC regime.

Jio said Trai's paper aids and abets sabotage of Digital India mission because it protects and perpetuates the vested interests of certain incumbent telecom operators who do want their large body of 2G customers to forever remain digitally disempowered and deprived. The telco further said that the paper has not been issued to address traffic asymmetry, but to address the claimed financial stress of one or two operators at the cost of the interests of the subscribers and the telecom sector, and also the credibility of the Authority.

The company said the move contradicts Trai's past decisions where it was represented that the zero termination charge regime would come into effect for all types of calls from January 1, 2020. It further said the present trend indicates that traffic asymmetry (one of the key reasons for Trai's rethink on IUC) is expected to be reversed in a few months and the present receivers will become payers, and so deferring stated timelines is not going to steer any operator away from the purported financial stress.

"Continuing the IUC regime merely for supporting the legacy TSPs to provide services to 2G subscribers are against public interest," Jio added. It also said that as per incumbent operators reporting to the Authority, they (2G users), apart from being charged a minimum tariff (Rs 23 per month) to stay on the network, are also charged heavily for voice calls (Rs 1.50 per minute).

Jio said that had Trai recalculated termination charges, it would be less than 1 paise per minute at this stage, and added that the small residual value by itself fully justifies the need for moving to zero termination charge regime. "There exists no rationale for changing the date of implementation of BAK (bill and keep) regime from January 1, 2020," Jio added.