Reliance Jio sparred with older operators Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel on the issue of reviewing interconnect usage charges (IUC) at the telecom regulator’s open house discussion Friday.
Latest telecom entrant Jio argued that there were no grounds to delay implementation of the zero-IUC regime since traffic symmetry between operators had been achieved. But, incumbent players Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea countered that IUC should not come down to zero, from 6 paise at present, and that the bill and keep (BAK) regime – under which IUC is nil – should be postponed by at least three years.
Telecom Regulator Authority of India (Trai) chairman RS Sharma said that the regulator will bring out a regulatory framework on the matter soon. “We will come up with regulation on IUC as soon as possible,” he said, when asked about a timeline.
IUC is paid by call-originating telcos to the destination network. Jio is currently a net payer of IUC, while Airtel and Vodafone Idea are net recipients, underlining the reasons for their respective stands. And traffic symmetry means similar percentages of incoming and outgoing calls which negates the need for IUC payments to each other.
Jio Director Mahendra Nahata said that delaying the implementation of zero call connect charges beyond January 2020 will hurt affordability of telecom services, especially for consumers in rural areas that have benefitted from free calls offered by Jio, and others. Jio has recently started to charge its customers for calls made to other networks to recover its IUC costs.
“In case Trai does not favour implementation of BAK regime from January 2020, then at least interconnect usage charges currently at 6 paise should be brought down,” he said.
But both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea opposed the idea.
“One operator should not end up subsidising the other, and therefore when we ask for delaying BAK, we’re only saying that we should be compensated for the work we’re doing, and that is the principle that the authority should adopt,” said Bharti Airtel’s chief regulatory officer Ravi Gandhi.
Trai’s latest review of the IUC issue has come barely two years after it had reduced the charge by 57 percent to 6 paise a minute in October 2017, and ordered its end from January 2020. That decision was then backed by Jio as it enabled it to save on IUC payouts to its then bigger rivals.
Jio’s Nahata said that the ratio of incoming and outgoing calls was now at par with each other at 50 percent each. This compares with 90 percent outgoing and 10 percent incoming in April 2017, when the 6 paise IUC charge was first applied, and from 62 percent outgoing and 38 percent incoming in September 2019.
“The reason of traffic asymmetry is no longer there, for delaying the zero termination charge from January 1, 2020,” he said.
He added that both Airtel and Vodafone Idea had also expanded their 4G networks, which meant that cost of carrying calls had gone down. However, he alleged the the older telcos’ subscriber traffic was being diverted to 2G or 3G networks, to show a higher cost for voice.
“Airtel has 37 percent 4G traffic and yet only 18 percent of its subscribers are on 4G… either wrong data is being given or subscriber traffic was being diverted to 2G or 3G networks, to show a higher cost for voice. This must be looked into before Trai takes a decision, after due diligence,” Nahata added.
Airtel’s Gandhi rejected allegations of data fudging, terming them as “misplaced” and said that people at times used the company’s SIM into second slot of mobile phone which generally supports 2G or 3G network.
He said there are 40 crore consumers are on 2G network and they use low-cost feature phones, and shutting down 2G network will mean depriving such consumers of telecom services.
A Vodafone Idea official added that consumers today have the option of moving to other networks through mobile number portability (MNP). “Today customers have option of MNP and they can move to other network. It is wrong to say that any operator is holding back customers on 2G network,” the official said.―News Feed