Regulator TRAI has tightened the network connectivity rules by mandating a 30-day deadline for telecom companies to ink interconnection pacts on non- discriminatory basis and also fixed a daily penalty of up to Rs 1 lakh per service area for violations.
The ‘Telecom Interconnection Regulations 2018’ of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), come into force from February 1 and assume significance as newcomer Reliance Jio and incumbent telecom operators have, in the past, clashed over network connectivity issues and inadequate ports.
At the time of launch of its services in 2016, the new entrant had accused large and established operators like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular of not giving it sufficient Points of Interconnect (PoIs) leading to massive call failures on its network, even as the incumbents had blamed free calls offered by Jio for “tsunami” of network traffic.
The telecom regulator has now stipulated a penalty of up to Rs 1 lakh per day per service area for operators who violate its latest interconnect rules.
TRAI has also said that “every service provider shall, within thirty days of receipt of a request from a service provider, enter into the interconnection agreement, on non- discriminatory basis, with such service provider”. The regulator has fixed five days for service providers to respond to interconnection seekers with a draft interconnect pact.
So far, there was no explicit timeline for inking of interconnect agreements.
Trai, has also laid down a ‘formula’ that would act as a ceiling for ‘bank guarantees’ in case of interconnection, instead of the current practice of such guarantees being worked out through mutual negotiation between operators. For provisioning of ports at the Points of Interconnect (point of exchange of network traffic), the regulator has fixed 30-day time-frame instead of the 90 days earlier.
“The interconnection charges such as set-up charges and infrastructure charges may be mutually negotiated between service providers subject to the regulations or directions issued by the Authority…provided that such charges are reasonable, transparent and non-discriminatory,” Trai said in its interconnect regulations.
For disconnection of the ports, a service provider would have to now give a show-cause-notice of 15 working days to the other telco clearly disclosing the “reasons” for the proposed disconnection. If not satisfied by the reply or in case no reply is received, the operator will give a notice of 15 days specifying the disconnection date for points of interconnect.
At a broad level, the regulations comprise rules for crafting network connectivity agreements, initial provisioning of such connectivity, augmentation of Points of Interconnect, applicable rates or charges, disconnection of ports, and financial disincentive on interconnection issues. The regulations will apply to all the service providers offering telecom services in India, TRAI said in a statement.
A mail sent to operators, including Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, seeking their views on the latest interconnect rules went unanswered. The telecom watchdog has also outlined a framework for provisioning and augmenting of interconnectivity ports, laying down a step-by-step process in this regard. The rules issued today comes after a detailed consultation process by Trai that started in October 2016 and included open house discussions and written comments by stakeholders.
The strengthening of the rules follows a firestorm of controversy in the past over provisioning of points of interconnect, with Reliance Jio and incumbent operators trading charges over call connect issues. At one point, Jio had alleged that up to 75 percent of calls from its network to that of other operators had failed due to inadequate PoIs.
Taking note of issue, the regulator in 2016 recommended a cumulative penalty of Rs 3,050 crore on Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea Cellular for violating norms by denying adequate interconnection points to Reliance Jio and held that their actions were anti-consumer and against the public interest.