Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has rejected the telcos’ latest demand to expedite setting of a floor for tariffs by holding the open house discussions online, with chairman RS Sharma saying the watchdog needs to look after consumers who are currently in distress, a view which dealt a huge setback for operators.
“It may be a better option that any further discussion on the issue (floor tariff) is held after the lockdown is completely lifted and normalcy is restored,” Sharma told ET, virtually ruling out an online open house discussion on the issue, and thus, an early decision on the contentious issue.
He added that the authority is conscious of its mandate, which is to protect the interests of consumers as well as to promote orderly growth of the sector.
Telecom carriers Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea last week once again pushed the regulator to accelerate the process of fixing floor for service tariffs, saying in the absence of any government relief, this step was key to long-term sustainability of the sector and for carriers to absorb the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues.
Last week, Bharti Airtel’s chief executive (India & SA) Gopal Vittal also said that tariffs remained unsustainably low, and called on the industry watchdog to swiftly ring in a floor price for data services.
“TRAI is always open to discussion, and has initiated a consultation on the issue on the demand of industry before the pandemic engulfed the country and the whole world. With changed circumstances, most consumers are in severe distress,” Sharma said.
TRAI, which has been pushing back the idea of a floor price for services, was pushed by carriers into starting a consultation process last December. But the regulator has consistently said that setting a floor for prices was ‘anti-consumer’ and ‘anti-poor’ as it would increase the payout for consumers. The regulator has received comments on the paper, which included opposition from the likes of the Competition Commission of India and the Niti Aayog.
But telcos have said that the Covid outbreak has underlined the need for a healthy telecom sector, which is capable of making investments, and to that effect, setting a floor price at the earliest was a must. They thus urged TRAI to hold online open house discussions, which is the last step in the consultation process before the regulator takes a decision.
“We have always examined the issues after following a detailed transparent consultation process, facilitating effective participation of stakeholders,” Sharma said.
The telecom service providers want the regulator to fix a floor price for data services, while TRAI, in the paper, has said not just a floor price for data but also for voice, and a price ceiling would be up for debate.