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DCC approves penalty on Airtel, Vodafone Idea over 2016 clash with Jio, but asks TRAI to review the fine amount

The Digital Communications Commission, the highest decision-making body of the telecom department, has approved the imposing of a penalty on Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for not providing points of interconnection (PoIs) to Reliance Jio back in 2016, the Economic Times reports. However, the DCC sought TRAI’s views on revising the quantum of the Rs 3,050 crore penalty it had recommended, citing financial stress in the sector, the report said. An earlier ET report said the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had backed the Rs 3,050 crore penalty. In October 2016, TRAI had recommended fining Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Rs 3,050 crore for allegedly denying interconnectivity to Jio.

While approving the penalties on Vodafone Idea and Airtel, the DCC disagreed with a proposal by one of the secretaries to fine Reliance Jio as it too failed to deliver quality service to customers, the ET report said. The Rs 3,050 crore fine, if left unchanged by TRAI, will work out to Rs 1,050 crore each for Vodafone and Airtel (Rs 50 crore penalty per circle for 21 circles each), and Rs 950 crore for Idea (Rs 50 crore per circle for 19 circles). But since Vodafone and Idea merged their businesses in 2017, the new entity Vodafone Idea will have to pay both fines.

Operators ‘attempted to stifle competition and wilfully violate license conditions’, said TRAI

Before imposing its fine in 2016, TRAI had asked the three operators to furnish information regarding traffic and congestion on the PoIs with Jio on a daily basis since September 30, 2016. On the basis of the information forwarded by Airtel, Idea, and Vodafone, TRAI noted that the percentage of failed call attempts during busy hours with Jio was “exorbitantly high…thus Airtel/Idea/Vodafone has failed meet benchmarks for PoI congestion” as prescribed in the license and regulations regarding Quality of Service. TRAI said that licenses condition under Unified License regime mandated providing adequate interconnection to all telecom service providers, and that the parameter of congestion at an individual PoI should not be greater than 0.5%. This led to a large numbers of Jio subscribers being denied quality of service, TRAI said. It added that Airtel, Idea, and Vodafone, with representation from industry body COAI, attempted to “stifle competition in the market and wilfully violate license conditions”. In addition, TRAI pointed out that as the three operators had failed to comply with Unified License norms, it could have revoked their licenses, but recommended the penalty instead “in view of larger public interest”.

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