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Vodafone takes TRAI to court over Jio interconnection allegations

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India’s second largest telecom operator Vodafone has a filed petition in the Delhi High court challenging telecom regulator TRAI’s Rs 1050 crore penalty for allegedly violating license norms by denying interconnection points to new telco entrant Reliance Jio, reports Economic Times. The court will hear the petition on 21 December. MediaNama has written to Vodafone for a response and will update this when we hear from them.

In October, TRAI recommended a combined penalty of Rs 3050 crore on Airtel, Idea and Vodafone for allegedly denying interconnection to Jio. At that time, TRAI pointed out that operators were found to “willfully violate the license conditions.” However, last month, a PTI report said that TRAI requested Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to “mutually” resolve issue of interconnection with Reliance Jio. The proposal to fine operators is yet to be reviewed by the Department of Telecommunication (DoT).

The Interconnection issue so far

The battle between Jio and rest of operators began after telecom lobby association COAI went against  Jio’s network trails in August stating that the amount of traffic being generated from the Jio trials are “choking” points of interconnection (PoI), and “impairing” quality of service of other operators. Jio went on to claim that crores of calls were failing while interconnecting with Airtel, Idea, and Vodafone, while the incumbent operators claimed to have released adequate PoIs to Jio and that it was Jio who was delaying optimization of the PoIs released. A timeline of this is here.

In the same week that TRAI recommended the Rs 30350 Cr fine, it put out a consultation paper asking whether a standardized interconnect agreement be mandated in case two telcos fail to mutually negotiate the terms and conditions of interconnection.

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Ambani said call blocks were anti-competitive

Earlier this month, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani said, “We have not received the required support from our existing operators. In the last 3 months, more than 900 crore calls were blocked while interconnecting with the 3 largest operators,” Ambani said. Terming this “anti-competitive”,  Ambani claimed that this has restricted the company from providing good quality of voice service on Jio network. However, Ambani also said that call drop rate had come down significantly to 20%, from the earlier 90%. “We are working with fellow operators to make this rate to acceptable limits and regulations. We expect operators to release sufficient points of Interconnect over the coming weeks,” Ambani added.

Consumers still left without compensation

During the wake of the call drops issue in the country last year, TRAI mandated that all telecom operators pay Re 1 to compensate consumers in case of call drops. This did not come into effect as COAI and Association of Unified Service Providers in India (AUSPI) filed a case in the Delhi High Court in December, challenging the regulator’s order.

The Supreme Court then struck down TRAI’s mandatory Re 1 per dropped call as compensation for consumers in May. Call drop rates still remains to be unsatisfactory as per TRAI’s latest reports, and the end consumer is still facing bad quality service, and are left without any compensation till date.

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