The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Friday proposed a combined fine of Rs3,050 crore on incumbent telecom lobby – Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular – for deliberately blocking calls from new entrant Reliance Jio by not providing sufficient connectivity points.
In a letter to the telecom department, the telecom watchdog has proposed a fine of Rs50 crore a circle each on Bharti Airtel's 21 circles, Vodafone India's 21circles and Idea Cellular's 19 circles, in a bid to end their three-month long tussle with the new entrant Reliance Jio.
In all these circles, Trai has found ''points of interconnect (PoI) congestion exceeded the permissible limit of 0.5 per cent.
If the telecom ministry accepts Trai's proposal, the three operators will have to pay a cumulative fine of Rs3,050 crore.
It is the first time that the telecom regulator recommends action against the three leading service providers for trying to stifle competition by blocking connectivity points.
Reliance Jio has seen 80 per cent call drops ever since it started commercial operations and the company blames the three incumbent players for not providing it with enough interconnection points.
Points of interconnection are ports that would allow Reliance Jio users to make calls terminating on any other telecom operator's network. All telecom operators are obligated under the licence conditions to provide interconnection ensuring quality of service – a condition that is built into the licensing agreement to ensure service quality for customers.
The three incumbent operators, however, accuse Jio of unfairly exploiting the interconnect charge framework and improperly launching commercial operations.
Trai, headed by former information technology secretary Ram Sevak Sharma, meanwhile, accused Reliance Jio of being the slowest in the 4G network.
At the same time, the regulator has acknowledged that insufficient connectivity points between operators can lead to dropped calls when a Jio subscriber tries to call an Airtel or Vodafone number.
The regulator also accuses Airtel, Vodafone and Idea of ''creating two separate trunk groups for outgoing and incoming calls from Reliance Jio''. This, Trai says, was done to ''circumvent the Standards of Quality of Service of Basic Telephone Service (Wireline) and Cellular Mobile Telephone Service Regulations, 2009.''
''This was done despite the fact that the interconnect agreement between Reliance Jio and Airtel clearly spells out the process of converting total E1s existing at the PoIs into one way E1s for outgoing traffic of each party will take place at the end of two years,'' the letter says.
Trai had, on 20 September, sought congestion data from the top three operators to check whether attempts were being made to block calls from Jio users. Based on the data, Trai found that the call failure rate was around 80 per cent, which is "unacceptable".
Trai regulations limit dropped calls on interconnection points to five in every 1,000 calls, or 0.5 per cent. Operators are bound by licensing agreement to ensure this.
The three companies blame Jio's "free" calls as the reason for the traffic congestion and asymmetry, because of which they were bearing higher costs.
Jio is offering free phone call and 4G mobile broadband service till 31 December.
Reliance Jio on Thursday said that over 75 per cent of calls on its network were still failing because of the insufficient interconnection facility.
"Indian public have not been able to enjoy Jio's free voice offer as a result of such anticompetitive behaviour of incumbent operators in breach of licence conditions," Jio had said in a statement.