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TRAI maintains ‘absolutely unbiased approach’, says RS Sharma

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) maintains an unbiased approach while taking decisions, said RS Sharma, chairperson of the regulator, accepting that some of its recommendations may have “very badly” hurt stakeholders in the process.

“We have at least tried to maintain, irrespective of what may have been attributed to us, absolutely unbiased approach. An approach we think is the right approach consistent with the objectives of the Trai,” Sharma said on Wednesday, while addressing a virtual conference organised by the Broadband India Forum (BIF).

Sharma’s comments come at a time the telecom regulator is probing Vodafone Idea Ltd’s premium RedX plan. According to Vodafone Idea, Trai’s probe into the scheme providing faster data speeds to higher-paying customers started after a complaint by rival Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. Vodafone Idea alleged that Trai’s decision was “only to help the cause of Reliance Jio”.

However, Trai has called the allegations vague, clarifying that the probe began as the premium plan violated service norms. Trai told the telecom disputes tribunal that Vodafone Idea attempted to “mask the information” related to the scheme.

Interestingly, Reliance Jio submitted to the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) that Trai’s decision to withhold Voda Idea’s premium plan was following a complaint it had filed. Jio has called the RedX plan discriminatory and misleading.

While Trai barred Vodafone Idea’d RedX scheme and a similar plan, Platinum, by rival Bharti Airtel Ltd to onboard new customers, the TDSAT granted interim relief to the telecom operators to continue with the plan and directed the regulator to probe the matter.

The TDSAT is yet to give its final verdict in the matter.

On Wednesday, Sharma also said the government needs to incentivise a robust fibre-cable infrastructure that will improve broadband connectivity. He added that Wi-Fi and backhaul networks in remote areas need support of the government for complete digitisation.

Sharma admitted that the Centre has not been effective in dialogue with state governments as far as right of way (RoW) policy in telecom is concerned. “I think we all have to work on, especially the government, in easing out the RoW policy,” he said.

“What is required is more interaction with the state governments to realise that having the right kind of way would be the right approach to be digitised,” Sharma added.

The RoW is a framework for setting up of telecom towers, laying of fibre cables, settling disputes in a time-bound manner and improving coordination between companies, state governments and local bodies.

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