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Regulations Have To Be Reviewed In Light of Data Becoming Predominant, Says TRAI Chairman RS Sharma

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman RS Sharma said data has become the most deciding factor in the telecom sector.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman RS Sharma said data has become the most deciding factor in the telecom sector. With the commodity becoming the basic raw material over which operators and other stakeholders will offer services like videos, music, e-Education, e-Health, etc, there is a need to review the regulations in light of the latest development. Sharma stressed in an interview with FE’s Rishi Ranjan Kala that Trai’s role in this fast changing and dynamic landscape is to ensure that regulation does not lead to strangulation. Excerpts:

Your last term was about IUC, predatory pricing, QoS norms, etc. What issues do you think would mark your second term?

This is not about an individual, but an organisation. As Trai’s preamble says working for growth of the industry, creating a level playing field and ensuring consumer interest, we will continue to perform these goals. Obviously, the underlying technology will change, and therefore, regulatory practices may change. Means and ends are important. End is to ensure healthy competition, industry growth, consumer protection, etc. This should be achieved through means, which are transparent, non-discriminatory and non-predatory.

However, what needs to be factored in the regulatory landscape is the fact that telecom is not a single vertical today and not merely about communication. It has become a platform. It means information and communication technologies. They have become pervasive in all walks of life. Secondly, new technologies are coming, for instance 5G, which is not an incremental technology, but a quantum jump. With new technologies, the use cases are increasing and now the new regulatory paradigm has to balance the seemingly contradictory objectives. One is to regulate, another is regulation should not become strangulation. It should ensure that we should not stifle the innovation, market and therefore light touch regulation is the broad policy that we follow.

How would you steer TRAI through these developments and disruptions?

I think what should guide TRAI in its quest to ensure that it is able to perform its duties according to certain broad principles. For instance, technology agnosticism is very important. So, regulation has to be principle based, rather than technology specification based. Another fact is that many regulations in the past were made for the world where voice was the dominant output of this particular network. Those will have to be changed. For instance, you measured tariffs in minutes, but now you measure it in bytes.

Therefore, we will have now look at all regulations and see whether they are compatible with the digital economy. One of the fundamental change that has taken place is data. Data is the raw material on which you construct everything – voice, content, videos, etc. Now you have to regulate the data flow, data transmission, data protocol, etc.

Would this also mean that TRAI’s role and responsibilities need to be reviewed?
I think the government will be the best to judge that. Ultimately, it will be telecom networks that will transport data and data security and privacy are connected. I feel this should happen, but it will be for the government to decide whether TRAI should be entrusted with that job or there should be a separate authority created for this purpose as data economy will also become very important.

Supreme Court has upheld TRAI’s tariff order and interconnect regulations on pricing and packaging of TV channels offered to subscribers on free-to-air channels? What does it mean for consumers?

This is empowering for consumers and brings in transparency in the sector. It brings in more choice for consumers. This will reduce litigation in the sector. Consumer has been at the centre and must know what he is buying and he/she must not be pushed into buying something. And the price should be transparent. We have pushed MRP of a channel, which basically says that if a channel is free, it should be free for consumer.

With Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel becoming aggressive in FTTH offering a host of services including TV channels, movies, music, etc, would this lead to a situation, like in telecom, where prices crashed to record lows? Will customer become the king here also as in telecom?

Telecom is going to become a fundamental platform, providing all kinds of services, including broadcasting services. I will not make any forecast on prices in the broadcasting sector as it is under forbearance. Customer should be the king and is the king. That is the fundamental principle. Customer interest is very important for TRAI.

What will be role of TRAI in light of these developments in broadcasting?

TRAI will continue to regulate as it has been mandated to do. It will also be guided by principles of free and fair competition, consumer protection, etc. We will also continue to evolve the regulatory landscape with the idea that we should be facilitator and not strangulators. – Financial Express

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