Editorial – March 2018

COAI has intensified its slur and defamation campaign against Trai following the regulator’s issuance of the 63rd Amendment to the Telecom Tariff Order on Feb 16, 2018 that protects consumer interests. The latest amendment requiring disclosures of tariff plans and discounts on TSPs’ website for acquiring new customers or retaining old ones, is a disclosure driven measure. It is in the interests of transparency and is non-discriminatory. It empowers the consumer to make an informed choice. It is precisely this aspect that COAI is attacking. COAI should be seen for what it really is. Therefore in our cover story, we call it the Cartel of Airtel and Idea (COAI).

COAI, a clique of the incumbent operators Bharti Airtel and Idea, was greatly helped by the earlier anti-consumer Trai chairman Rahul Khullar. Some of the anti-consumer measures that Mr Khullar took to enable incumbents extract higher tariffs from consumers include moving SMS away from BAK (Bill And Keep) regime to IUC regime. Earlier there were no termination charges for SMS, but Mr Khullar made everyone to pay 7 paisa per minute as IUC. As a result, SMS became expensive. Also, in yet another anti-consumer move, instead of making Mobile Termination Charge (MTC) zero, he kept it at 14 paisa per minute. These steps mainly benefitted Bharti Airtel.

And after he demitted office, Mr Khullar has been deployed by the incumbents to attack the present Trai chairman RS Sharma who since he assumed the reins in August 2015, has taken several pro-consumer steps, notable among which are reducing MTC to 6 paisa and making it zero from January 1, 2020. He red-flagged the call drop issue and conducted actual testing instead of relying on the manipulated figures provided by the telcos.

In this TTO, Trai has also redefined what constitutes Significant Market Power (SMP). It has rationalized the parameters to the two most important contributing factors – subscriber base and turnover criteria. Switching capacity and volume of traffic the two parameters, which were included in earlier TTO were of no functional value and hence have been deleted. Creating sub-categories of data, internet, 2G calls, SMS just leads to a complicated labyrinth. An SMP is not allowed to offer predatory pricing. Read our cover story for more details.