DoT to meet incumbent telcos over PoI dispute with Jio

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will meet with Bharti Airtel Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd and Vodafone India Ltd to hear their pleas against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's recommendation of a Rs3,050 crore cumulative penalty for allegedly denying sufficient points of interconnection (PoI) to Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, according to a report in the Mint citing multiple people aware of the development.

''We had asked the three operators to make their presentations by 6 December. Idea Cellular and Airtel have requested us to defer the meeting. We will reply to them. Vodafone has not responded so we are assuming they will come (on 6 December),'' a senior DoT said requesting anonymity.

''The department has asked us to come and make our case as to why the penalty is not valid,'' an official at one of the operators was quoted as saying.

The companies did not respond to an emailed questionnaire seeking details of the development.

In October last year, the telecom regulator had recommended to the government that a penalty of Rs1,050 crore each be imposed on Airtel and Vodafone, and Rs950 crore on Idea, for allegedly denying PoIs to Reliance Jio.

Reliance Jio, an arm of Reliance Industries Ltd, which started operations in September last year, complained to TRAI that a large number of calls on its network were failing as incumbent operators were not providing sufficient points of interconnection.

In February this year, the Telecom Commission, the highest decision-making body at the DoT, sought clarifications from the regulator about the basis for calculating the penalty and provisions of the law under which the penalty had been recommended.

TRAI replied in May that the licence agreement mandated that the licensee will be responsible for maintaining quality of service as mandated by the licenser or TRAI, and any violation is liable to be treated as breach of terms and conditions of the licence.

While non-compliance of terms and conditions of the licence warrant the revocation of the licence, TRAI in May said it recommended a penalty as a revocation of licence would inconvenience consumers.

The regulator had then also reiterated that Reliance Jio had placed its demand with the three operators well in advance, based on its subscriber and traffic projections, to ensure communication between subscribers of networks. Denying sufficient PoIs was anti-consumer, against the public interest and aimed at stifling competition in the sector, Trai had said.

Points of interconnection are used to connect two telecom operators' networks to complete a phone call.

The issue of interconnection has been a bone of contention among operators. In February, Airtel and Reliance Jio had a bitter exchange on the issue when the former said it had provided sufficient points of interconnection to Reliance Jio, enough to serve more than double the number of users the latter claimed to have.

Airtel had then also alleged that Reliance Jio's claims of inadequate interconnection capacity were meant to cover up for technical issues in its own network, as well as its inability to activate the points of interconnection provided.

If fines are imposed, it could financially impact incumbent operators which are in the midst of a tariff war started by Jio.