In a surprise move, RS Sharma has been re-appointed as TRAI chairman, PTI reports. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet is reported to have extended Sharma’s tenure until September 30, 2020, which is when Sharma will turn 65 and superannuate from government service. The Appointments Committee consists of the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This reappointment is unexpected since Sharma had earlier made it clear that he intended to resign. As recently as this morning, he was even sharing articles on Twitter that described his tenure as ending. He was being tipped as a leading contender to be the first chairman of the to-be-formed Data Protection Authority of India.
Net Neutrality and price wars
Under RS Sharma, the telecom landscape of India shifted significantly. When he entered office, there were twice the number of wireless telecom providers as there are today — and prices barrelled down after Reliance Jio entered the market. The chairman and other officers have insisted that a reduced number of players is not necessarily going to harm competitiveness, and that hyper-competition is possible even with a small number of players. Even so, incumbent operators often complained that the authority was not doing enough to curb the activities of the ‘new entrant’.
Rajan Mathews, head of the Cellular Operators Association of India, complained that Sharma was ‘too pro-consumer’, at the expense of the industry. Sharma refuted this, saying that being pro-consumer doesn’t necessarily mean being anti-industry.
Sharma also led the TRAI as it created what are probably the strongest Net Neutrality rules in the world, both in terms of speed and pricing discrimination. In July, the Department of Telecommunications ratified those rules, amending license conditions with telecom operators to include Net Neutrality provisions.