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Disappointed By Penalty Decision, Have Faith In Judicial Process: Airtel

Telecom operator Bharti Airtel on Wednesday expressed disappointment on the DCC’s decision on penalty imposition, saying the “arbitrary” move would put more burden on stretched financials of telcos while adversely impacting the government’s vision of a digitally empowered India.

The telecom department’s apex decision-making body, the Digital Communications Commission (DCC), on Wednesday approved imposing a cumulative penalty of Rs 3,050 crore on Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea (now merged as Vodafone Idea Ltd) for not providing points of interconnection to Reliance Jio.

The penalty on Airtel and Vodafone works out to be about Rs 1,050 crore each. In case of Idea, it comes to around Rs 950 crore.

Hinting at possible legal recourse, Airtel asserted that it will approach the “appropriate forum” after receiving a formal intimation about penalty, and went on to say that it has “complete faith in the judicial process and the law of the land”.

“We are extremely disappointed with the decision to impose penalty on the telecom operators on the matter pertaining to providing the Point of Interconnect (POI).

This is despite the fact that the total number of POIs provided were more than sufficient for the projections provided on the number of customers,” an Airtel spokesperson said.

The spokesperson argued that the requested points of interconnect were provided within the prescribed time limits and were more than the numbers requested for.

“All these facts were presented to the authorities. It is, therefore, disheartening that those facts have not been considered while taking this arbitrary decision of imposing the penalty,” the spokesperson said.

Given the recent forced consolidation due to the financial stress in the sector, the decision will put an additional burden on the already stretched balance sheets of the operators, and adversely impact the government’s vision of a digitally inclusive and empowered India, the spokesperson said.

“Upon receipt of the formal communication intimating the levy of penalty, we will approach the appropriate forum. We have complete faith in the judicial process and the law of the land,” the spokesperson added.

In October 2016, the telecom regulator had recommended imposing a total penalty of Rs 3,050 crore on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea for allegedly denying inter-connectivity to Reliance Jio.

The regulator had, at that time, stopped short of recommending cancellation of their telecom licences saying it may lead to significant consumer inconvenience.

The DCC had last month approved imposing penalty on Airtel and Vodafone Idea. However, before imposing the penalty, the commission decided to seek the regulator’s views on revising the Rs 3,050 crore suggested penalty, citing the “present financial health of the sector”.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, however, maintained its stand, saying it is not in a position to modify its previously recommended penalty on the operators as it is bound by the provisions of the Trai Act.―BTVI

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