With regulator’s review on call connect charges polarising telcos, industry body COAI has conceded that the issue has always been a contentious one, even globally, and hoped that players will engage in reasonable and rational discussions by looking at the situation “objectively”.
The Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) said different players may take varied position based on their operational, strategic and commercial interests and asserted that majority and minority views are part and parcel of working of any institution or industry body.
The comments assume significance as the industry has erupted into a war of words over the last few days, with the IUC issue back on the regulator’s radar.
COAI Director General Rajan Mathews told PTI that the association’s governance structure dictates that the position taken by it is commensurate with the majority view of its membership (since it represents majority of telecom subscribers too) while ensuring that “minority view does not get brushed under the carpet”.
Mathews said historically the majority view on interconnect usage charges (IUC) has been that zero termination charge is not acceptable in a calling party pays regime.
“We are in the process of aggregating inputs from our members but until such time, I can only reiterate historical position taken by a majority of our members that in a calling party pays regime, interconnect cannot be free and globally too there has always been a cost attached to it,” Mathews said.
At the last estimate, the majority operators believed that cost to be 14 paise for a voice call, Mathews said adding that minority view of one operator had been informed by the association to the telecom regulator last time the IUC discussions took place in the sector.
“We respect TRAI’s intention of looking at the issue and seeking feedback. Our members may look at things that have changed in terms of traffic, so membership will give it a due consideration. We are in the process of soliciting all of that, to provide inputs to TRAI,” Mathews said.
Asked how the association expected to balance the interest of its warring members, given the stark division in the industry on the issue, the COAI said different companies may take different position based on their operational, strategic and commercial interest and that it should not come as a surprise.
“In any institution, we must agree to disagree courteously and with respect for one another position, we should not demonise anyone by virtue of the fact that they have taken a particular position,” Mathews said.
With the regulator, last week, inviting public comments to review mobile call termination rate deadline, the old and new telcos have once again locked horns over the issue.
Airtel has accused Reliance Jio of “gaming” the system of paying for calls to rival network, and Jio has returned fire arguing that incumbents are charging high voice tariffs and manipulating the system to the detriment of their users.
A senior Airtel official had recently alleged that “one large 4G-only operator” had arbitrarily slashed ringing time for outgoing calls to other networks. This, it said, has not only led to customer inconvenience (since the calls are cut-off midway before answering), but prompted a barrage of call back to artificially convert outgoing calls to incoming on its network.
Typically, a telecom operator pays for connecting calls of its subscribers to the company on whose network a call terminates. Currently, an operator is required to pay 6 paise per minute as mobile call termination charge, called IUC.
The IUC was originally proposed to be made nil from January 1, 2020. But TRAI is now reviewing the timeline.
Jio has strongly countered all allegations made by Airtel saying at least one-fourth of calls landing on the company’s network are missed calls as incumbent firms charge high tariffs for making calls, and their customers, therefore, prefer a Jio user to call back using free voice calling available on the network.
“Therefore, the more efficient operator will end up paying IUC to the less-efficient and costlier operator,” the Jio official had contended recently.
Stating that IUC was nothing but a subsidy that new operators pay to incumbents, the Jio official had said old operators have been “manipulating and misleading” the system to the detriment of the customers and rued that ‘Bill and Keep’ regime has still not been implemented in India.―Money Control