Telcos urge Trai to speed up setting of data tariff floor


KOLKATA: Mobile carriers have urged the telecom regulator to speed up the process of setting a floor for data tariffs and review its decision not to regulate communication apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Google.

At a meeting last week with PD Vaghela, the new chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), telcos also called on him to urge the government to auction valuable E & V airwaves, considered ideal for 5G services.

“We have pointed out to the new chairman that Trai’s recommendations on setting a floor for data tariffs are pending for several months, and he has assured the industry he will examine the matter closely,” said SP Kochhar, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), representing Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

In the aftermath of the AGR payments crisis, telcos had earlier this year urged Trai to set a floor for data tariffs, among other relief measures, to restore the health of the debt-laden sector. This had been in response to a Trai paper seeking views on whether a floor price was needed for voice and data services.

Closing the consultation process on floor pricing for data services is amongst the most crucial issues Vaghela needs to tackle, keeping in mind the interests of both the industry and consumers.

During the meeting, the telcos also urged Trai to review its recent regulatory stand that there is no need to regulate communication apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Google, popularly known as over-the-top (OTT) players.

Last month, Trai, had rejected any need for regulatory intervention relating to privacy and security of OTT services though it said market developments need to be monitored, and that it can always intervene later if required. Trai’s stand had come as a huge boost for these communication apps that had been pushing back on telcos’ attempts to get them to be brought under some regulatory regime.

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The COAI had then said Trai’s move to exempt OTT players from security issues such as lawful interception could undermine national security. It added that telcos would continue to be at a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis OTT players, given that they have to abide by a strict regulatory and licensing rules that don’t apply to OTT players.

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Telcos are also pinning their hopes on the new Trai chairman to ensure early availability of E & V band airwaves – that can transmit data at super speeds, and hence ideal for 5G services.

“Trai has an open mind on the E&V bands issue, and we have urged it to speedily recommend the auctioning of these premium 5G airwaves,” said Kochhar.

Over the past month, a fierce letter war has erupted between telcos and tech companies over access to E & V airwaves.

Telcos fear any move on the government’s part to delicense these bands and allot them without auctions would violate a Supreme Court ruling, and also potentially give global tech companies a low-cost, backdoor entry into the mobile broadband space. They also say such a move would cause huge revenue losses for the government.

But the tech companies argue that any move to auction would go against Trai’s earlier call to free up these bands.





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