Sectoral regulator Trai has called a meeting with telecom operators on Friday as the incumbents had complained to it that Reliance Jio is offering predatory pricing as the Mukesh Ambani firm's voice tariffs are zero or free.
The operators had written to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) that Jio's voice tariffs are in violation of Trai's 30th amendment to TTO order. The amendment was made in 2004 which states that tariffs should be non-predatory, non-discrimatory and IUC compliant.
The incumbents including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular had said if the interconnect usage charge (IUC) was 14 paisa per call, the tariff should be more than that. The operators had asked Trai to examine this as it was predatory pricing. Jio had already announced that all the voice calls on its network would always be free.
"I have called for a meeting on Friday…Some telecom service companies had written to us alleging that Reliance Jio has violated some (tariff) order. So for that they had sought a meeting," Trai Chairman R S Sharma during an interactive session at industry chamber Ficci.
The incumbents and Reliance Jio have already been engaged in a slugfest over points of interconnects (PoIs) with Jio claiming it has not been provided with enough ports leading to crores of calls failure. The charge, however, was denied by the existing operators.
With call failures mounting, Trai has decided to issue show cause notices to errant telcos for failing to meet license conditions relating to PoIs as the customers are suffering because of poor quality of services.
According to the quality of service guidelines, the call failure rate cannot be more than 0.5 per cent.
The Trai Chairman said customers should not suffer because of the differences between telecom operators. Sharma further said there should be competition among telcos but it should be "healthy".
Coming down heavily on COAI, which has termed Trai biased to serve interests of one particular operator after it came out with a discussion paper on IUC, Sharma explained that the review was sought by telcos themselves after BSNL launched a scheme of app calling.
"(For) IUC, I think lot of you have criticised me. A lot of people said we were biased, they said we were doing it for some operators... The need for review is instigated or whatever you call it is at the request of telecom service providers that I am reveiwing it," Sharma said.
He cited the example of a scheme announced by BSNL that allowed customers travelling abroad to make calls from their mobile phones using their landline connection back home without attracting ISD charges by downloading the state-run operators app.
"Telecom service providers said it wasn't correct because this was some sort of a hybrid solution. (It was) avoiding a lot of interconnect charges...So we told BSNL to hold the service. We will have a comprehensive review and therefore, there was this need to review it. So it wasn't something I could put off because they (operators) said they had spent Rs 2,000 crore in putting up some next-gen network," Sharma added.
The interconnect charges are paid by a telecom operator to another when the former's call terminates on the latter's network. COAI had said the current interconnect regime was implemented by the regulator in March 2015 and it was clearly stated by Trai itself in 2015 that the next review would take place in 2017-18.
While incumbents have raised the red flag against the paper, Reliance Jio is in favour of scrapping the charges, as it would bring down costs of voice calls further and, in turn, benefit consumers.