India’s telecoms regulator recommended an INR30.5 billion ($455 million) fine on the country’s three largest operators – Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India – for not providing sufficient interconnection to 4G newcomer Reliance Jio.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended penalties of INR10.5 billion each for Airtel and Vodafone and INR9.5 billion for Idea, noting it found the lack of interconnection “to be the ulterior motive to stifle competition and be anti-consumer”, the Economic Times reported.
Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) director general Rajan Mathews told the newspaper it was disappointed by the size of the penalties and a representative from one of the incumbents said it thinks the regulator rushed into levying hefty penalties. “We repeatedly asked for the 90 days permitted under the regulator’s own direction to provide interconnection to Jio, so it’s puzzling why the regulator would jump the gun,” he told the Times.
Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Vodafone India said last month they would provide Jio with additional interconnection points, shortly after TRAI told the operators to work out a resolution and warned it would intervene if quality of service suffered. But Jio said it hasn’t seen a significant improvement in the number of off-net dropped calls, which it attributes to a lack of interconnect points.
In August Jio requested 12,000 interconnection points to handle its expected 22 million customers, but the incumbents only gave it 1,400, the company said.
The operators have been locked in a war of words for more than two months since Jio accused the incumbent operators of deliberately sabotaging its entry by not providing it with adequate points of interconnection, which forced it to delay its commercial launch.
Jio complained to the country’s telecom department after COAI accused the upstart in early August of offering a full blown mobile service disguised as a trial.