TRAI Chairman RS Sharma today slammed incumbent telecom operators for trying to dent the sectoral regulator’s impartiality and credibility, saying that their allegations of bias or favour in regulation are absolutely ‘inappropriate and uncalled for’.
He said the regulator has framed the rules including that on predatory pricing following the principles of fairness, transparency and consultation. “We are in an unenviable position; we are not here running a popularity contest,” he told PTI in an interview here. His comments came just days after British telecom giant Vodafone termed Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI’s) new rule on predatory pricing as ‘unfair’, and said the company was fighting the competition ‘with hands tied at the back’.
Sunil Mittal, who heads the country’s biggest mobile phone firm Bharti Airtel had also recently stated that the operators had no choice but to move court against the regulator’s order on predatory pricing, which prevents them from retaining customers and conducting business. Last week, Airtel and Idea Cellular approached Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal against TRAI’s predatory pricing norms. The TDSAT did not stay the contentious decision, but set April 17 as the next date of hearing.
TRAI’s predatory pricing rules have sparked off a furore as established players as well as telecom industry body COAI criticising the new norms. The COAI has indicated that the order has distorted the market, placing all operators, except one, at a ‘serious disadvantage’. The industry body had however refrained from naming newcomer Reliance Jio, whose aggressive tariffs have hit the incumbent operators hard. Sharma said it was about time the people stopped ‘attributing motives without any basis’.
“Allegations of bias or favour are absolutely inappropriate or uncalled for. They seek to damage or dent the reputation of regulator, without any basis,” Sharma said. He pointed out that a decision of TRAI may impact different operators, differently. “To attribute motives to those decisions is not correct. What you should do, if you feel those decisions are arbitrary, unreasonable, not legal, you should challenge them in the court of law, not have mud-slinging. That is not appropriate,” Sharma said. He said that to ‘create an environment to just condemn an entity is completely uncalled for’.
Last month, TRAI said it will impose financial disincentive of up to Rs 50 lakh per circle on operators if their service rates are found to be predatory in nature. A tariff will be considered predatory if in a ‘relevant market’, a telecom operator with over 30 per cent market share offers services at a price which is below the average ‘variable cost’, with a view to reducing competition or eliminating the competitors in the ‘relevant market’. The regulator has also said that telecom operators will have to provide services to all subscribers availing the same tariff plan in a non-discriminatory manner.
Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) has also flagged the revised definition of Significant Market Power (SMP) that now excludes parameters like traffic volume and switching capacity. It said such changes will place older operators at a disadvantage and stop them from responding to ‘what may be actual predatory tariff plans’. COAI has contended that the recent regulation has also taken away flexibility from the operators to offer benefits to customers.