Trying times for TRAI
(07 aug '08 ; 6.00 . pm)

Telecom regulator TRAI is rightly peeved about the GSM players refusing to heed its directive to offer interconnection to Reliance Communication’s GSM operations. If the GSM players have any reservations about offering interconnection to RCom they should take it up in the appropriate forum.

RCom has received the licence to start GSM services — one can debate whether they should have been allowed to offer both CDMA and GSM services — and not offering interconnection would inconvenience subscribers who would otherwise not be able to connect with those in other networks.

RCom already has an interconnection agreement with other telecom operators for its CDMA operations. It contends that since it has received a GSM licence under the technology neutrality clause introduced last year, it should not be required to renegotiate a separate agreement. GSM players, on the other hand, want to provide interconnection but under new terms and have not budged from their stance despite two reminders from TRAI. The department of telecom (DoT) needs to step in and break the impasse immediately, as the standoff is anti-consumer.

The entire dispute underscores the difficulty TRAI is facing in stamping its authority over the market players. This is partly because the government has itself, of late, undermined the regulatory autonomy of the watchdog. It has disregarded many of TRAI’s recent recommendations including some relating to 3G auctions. DoT is well within its rights to reject TRAI’s recommendations, but the regulations provide that any departure from the suggestions made has to be justified back to the regulator.

This dialogue is being followed only in letter, forcing TRAI to often go public with its grievances. Earlier, DoT brazenly disregarded the regulator’s recommendations on spectrum allocation, giving the impression of favouritism to R-Com. Now the existing GSM operators feel encouraged to disregard the TRAI.

The government needs to ensure TRAI has enough moral authority to oversee the market effectively. It must also give powers to impose penalty instead of approaching DoT for imposing its orders. Considering the government is a large player itself through BSNL and MTNL such autonomy is absolutely essential.

 

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