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TRAI Rejects Telcos Call For Online Talks On Floor Tariff

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has rejected telcos’ call to hold open house discussions on floor pricing of services through an online mechanism amid the Covid-19 pandemic, putting paid to the carriers’ bid to push the sectoral watchdog to speedily bring in a minimum rate, which would help boost their revenue.

“There is no question of holding an open house discussion (OHD) digitally. We have to first internally discuss the matter before conducting an open house and that process is itself not completed due to national lockdown,” a senior TRAI official said on condition of anonymity.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) that represents Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea had reportedly urged the regulator to conduct an open house discussion digitally in order to urgently fix a floor price for data services.

The TRAI official, however, countered the telcos’ request for holding discussion digitally, saying on one hand carriers were asking for an extension of regulatory filings due to the ongoing pandemic and on the other hand they wanted to “raise tariffs at a time of national healthcare crisis”.

The regulator has allowed a six-week extension to telcos for filing their mandatory monthly and quarterly reports due in April after the telcos sought additional time.

Post receiving comments and counter comments, TRAI internally deliberates on varied views and closely interacts with hundreds of industry stakeholders before coming up with a final recommendation which, according to the official, would not be possible in a virtual environment.

The watchdog has also received multiple suggestions for holding OHD at different locations, which were also under consideration.

The TRAI official further said that in such a national calamity when reporting of financial returns have been deferred and the government has announced big-ticket relief measures, the telcos should not seek urgent intervention from the regulator.

“This is a time when the government is giving money to the needy, and telcos argument is insensitive, which means they want more money out of those poor people,” the official said.

In December last, Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea, and Bharti Airtel had raised prices by up to 40% following the growing financial stress coupled with adjusted gross revenue (AGR)-related dues as mandated by the Supreme Court. Telcos have further sought intervention from TRAI to fix floor tariffs for voice and data services, which will increase average revenue per user and go a long way in restoring the viability of the debt lane sector.

TRAI, according to the official, is currently focussing on ensuring the telecom networks remain up and running at a time of pandemic when both private and government employees are working from home under a 21-day lockdown.

―Business Journal

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