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Airtel challenges TRAI’s new interconnection rates in Delhi HC

Airtel flicr

The Delhi High Court on Friday sought response from TRAI after Bharti Airtel submitted a plea challenging the regulator’s Interconnect Usage Charges (IUC), fixing termination charges for landline to wireless as zero paise, and wireless to wireless at 14 paise per minute, reports Economic Times.

IUC charges or termination charges are payable by one telecom company, whose subscriber makes a call to another telco’s subscriber, who receives the call. The charge is payable by the first telco for using the second’s network.

A bench headed by Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath issued notice to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and sought its reply by the next date of hearing on March 1.

Airtel has stated in its plea that the regulations imposed by TRAI are beyond the regulator’s legal power or authority and that it also violates Articles 14 which deals with ‘Equality before the law’  and 19(1) (g) of the Constitution of India, which deals with freedom to practise any profession, trade or occupation . The telco further furnished a letter dated May 14, 2015, which asked the regulator to review the regulations, which was rejected by the TRAI.

The petitions states the Interconnect Usage Charges payable by one service provider to the other have to be determined on the basis of cost and on a non-discriminatory basis. It further adds that the new regulations are inconsistent with the earlier ones issues in 2001 by the TRAI, which mandated that the “interconnection charges should solely be based on costs, to provide recompense to the operators for work done for termination of calls on their network”.

“It is submitted that by setting a Termination Charge at ‘zero” for calls originating from/terminating on fixed line, the Respondent has acted in an utmost arbitrary and unreasonable manner against its very own principles and views enunciated in the impugned Regulation and the same are liable to be quashed being against the object of the TRAI Act and ultra vires Section 11(1) (b) (ii) and (iv) of the TRAI Act.”

Besides, Airtel states that new regulations are contrary to Article 300A of the Constitution of India, which states that none can be deprived of property save by authority of law. Airtel alleges that it is deprived of its right to claim payment for the costs incurred for the work done for terminating calls of fixed line networks.

In an earlier petition in November last year, Vodafone had told the court that the termination charge imposed by the TRAI for interconnecting wirleine and wireless networks, cannot be zero, since the costs are incurred by the terminating operator and therefore, “the regulations fixing the charge as zero is ultra vires the provisions of TRAI Act”.

Interconnect charges for IP-based networks

Earlier this month, the TRAI, after consulting on the possibilities of ‘migrating to an IP-based network’ for interconnecting voice-data over IP network (VOIP) in 2014, issued recommendations to the DoT stating that IP-based networks are increasingly gaining traction, therefore facilitating interconnection between IP-based networks is imminent.

Conventionally, in the current telecom scenario, circuit switch networks carries voice data, facilitated through a PBX (Private Branch Exchange) system that uses analog signals to enable voice-calls. For Eg: In a 2G or 3G network, the user is able to make calls as analog signals pass through multiple switches before a connection is established.

While, IP-based networks (VoIP or VoLTE) facilitates exchange of mobile-data through computer servers, as well as voice-data through 4G LTE networks. In a scenario where an IP-based network is used to make voice-calls, the transfer of voice between two users takes place through small data packets.

Image credit: Arti Sandhu under  CC BY SA 2.0

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