When TRAI Shuts Up COAI As Bluntly As Possible

The professional relation between telecom regulator, TRAI, and telecom operators’ association, COAI, is not at the pink of health for quite some time now, precisely since the birth of Reliance Jio. While COAI had, in the past, accused TRAI of bias and working under pressure from the Mukesh Ambani-led firm, the sector regulator had, so far, maintained restraint from hitting back.

However, last week, the regulator, in an unprecedented manner, conveyed the telecom operators association to be in its limits.

In a recent case between operators Vs TRAI over a PoI issue, the regulator, having its Chairman in R. S Sharma, told the Department of Telecom, that COAI does not have any role to play in the ongoing interconnect issue and its interference in this matter is not required to be entertained by the regulator.

“At the outset, the Authority would like to assert that COAI does not have any locus-standi on the issue of interconnection matters,” TRAI said in a communication to DoT.

The case pertains to Jio’s application to TRAI where it accused that the incumbent operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular were not providing enough PoIs (points of interconnect) to the new entrant which is affecting the QoS (quality of service) of its customers. The regulator, finding merit in the case, had imposed a penalty of Rs 3050 crore on the three telcos on the same.

COAI, represented by its member operators, had written a letter to TRAI challenging the recommendation, and DoT had sought responses from the regulator on the said letter.

“It is an issue between operators and association has no role to play,” TRAI stated very clearly.

TRAI said this in a letter to DoT standing by its earlier recommendation of imposing a penalty of Rs 3050 Cr on Bharti airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular for not providing PoIs to Jio which is a violation of India’s cellular license rules.

The regulator has rarely been seen as blunt as this while responding to letters, be it from DoT, COAI or others. But this response of TRAI could be because the regulator seems to be too miffed by the frequent accusations from the association about its functioning.

In September last year, the COAI had accused the regulator of working under pressure from Reliance Jio when the regulator did not invite the association to participate in a meeting between with the operators.

“COAI has been kept out of the TRAI meeting at the insistence of RIL Jio, and TRAI acquiesced to their demand in an unprecedented manner,” CAOI DG Rajan Mathews had said then.

The regulator, then, had asked the association to retract the statement and apologize, which the association felt of ‘no need’.

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