The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has distanced itself from the fight between Reliance Jio Infocomm and established or incumbent operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular over interconnection issues.
In a letter to Reliance Jio this week, the DoT has said that ''as per Section 11 (l)(b)(ii)&(iii) of Trai Act, 1997, the matter related to interconnectivity between service providers is within the purview of Trai (the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). Further, as per provisions contained in the unified licence, the interconnection shall be subject to mutual agreement of the concerned parties & may be dealt with accordingly''.
Interconnection is required to connect calls between different networks.
The DoT letter to Jio is in response to the letters the company has written to various incumbent operators seeking more points of interconnect (PoIs), with copies marked to DoT. Jio's complaint is that the operators are not providing it the required PoIs, which leads to a large number of calls made by its subscribers failing.
The incumbent operators, on the other hand, say that they can provide PoIs but up to a limit, or else their own services will suffer. Their point is that a huge traffic imbalance exists between calls coming to their network from Jio compared with calls made from their networks to Jio's.
According to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), it is to the extent of 75 per cent. The call imbalance between incumbent operators is only to the extent of 5 per cent.
The incumbent operators feel that had Jio not offered free services to its subscribers - first during the trial launch and now till 31 December after Jio's the commercial launch on 5 September - such a huge need for PoIs would not have arisen.
With the DoT not willing to intervene in the matter, a huge fight is brewing between the incumbents and Jio. A hint of it was provided when Reliance Industries chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani, at the company's annual general meeting speech last week, urged the incumbents not to use their market power to thwart Jio's entry and provide PoIs demanded by it.
With the incumbents hardening their stance, the matter rests with (Trai), whether it wants to intervene or not.
According to Trai sources cited by The Indian Express, interconnection is a matter to be decided between two parties, and it can only enforce an agreement entered by them. Sources said that in the given matter, there's not much scope for settlement and the parties will have to go to court for any resolution.
For instance, earlier, the incumbents were not providing Jio the requested PoIs on the ground that its services were of a trial nature and not commercial. Now, they are saying that they cannot handle such an abnormal surge in traffic, as their networks are not designed to handle it without compromising their quality of services.
This is not the first time that the DoT and Trai have washed their hands of a matter relating to Jio and the incumbents. On the scope of trial services also, where both parties were locked in a dispute, first Trai and then DoT pushed the ball in each other's court to finally decide that the matter lacks clarity. Accordingly, it was decided that DoT will send a reference to the Trai on the scope of trial services, based on which Trai will furnish its recommendations after conducting a consultative exercise.