The Digital Communications Commission (DCC) is reportedly split on the decision to impose Rs 3,050 crore on Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea Ltd. The two firms were imposed the fine on TRAI’s recommendation for not providing adequate points of interconnection (POIs) when Jio launched its service in 2016. Now, a new report states that two of the seven member panel opposed the levy on the operators. A third member backed an extended tenure for paying the penalty.
Should Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea be fined?
The DCC, which is an inter-ministerial panel, backed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s proposal to levy penalties on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea. However, it made no recommendations on mechanism for graded payments. According to Economic Times, former finance secretary SC Garg and telecom department’s member Debatosh Manna, have opposed the levies. The meeting between the seven members is said to have taken place on July 24. It was held just a day before Garg was transferred from economic affairs to the power ministry.
Garg reportedly argued during the DCC meeting that the onus of ensuring quality of services lays on Jio. He added that neither Airtel nor Vodafone Idea were responsible. The former finance secretary also argued that the quantum of fine should be reduced considering the health of the industry. Manna, on the other hand, argued that incumbent players had no obligation to offer points of interconnection, since Jio’s launch date was not clear. “Telecom service providers were in the dark about the commercial launch of Jio,” Manna is believed to have said.
The member (services) have objected to the three-year-old TRAI recommended penalty on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular. It states that recommendation based on grounds that obligation to provide POIs during the testing phase is not clearly established. Manna also argued that operators were responsible for providing POIs only after the commercial launch of services. The position by member (services) is similar to that taken by Airtel and Vodafone Idea.
The operators have argued that they provided adequate POIs to Reliance Jio at the time of its launch. Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan and Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant are in favor of the penalties. They are supported by IT secretary Ajay Sawhney, telecom department’s member (finance) Anuradha Mitra and member (technology) Shiwa Shankar Singh. One of them also recommended graded payment schedule with a tenure of between 15 and 20 years for repayment.