Reliance Jio has hit out at the telecom regulator Trai for issuing a fresh consultation paper on seeking opinion of industry on the extension of existing interconnect usage charge (IUC) regime beyond 2020.
In its response to the Trai discussion paper on the same last month, Jio said, "the consultation paper aids and abets sabotage of the Prime Minister's Digital India mission because it protects and perpetuates the vested interests of certain incumbent telecom operators who do want their large body of 2G customers to forever remain digitally disempowered and deprived of the fruits of the digital revolution."
"These 2G customers, who belong to the under-privileged section of India's population, have been excluded from Digital Infrastructure, it said.
It said incumbent telcos are deliberately not ending the outdated 2G networks and Trai is helping them. Trai in September issued a new consultation paper seeking change of time period in going for zero IUC citing imbalance traffic in telecom networks.
"The consultation paper is anti-consumer...By deliberately refusing to end their 2G services and upgrade their networks to 4G, these incumbent operators are exploiting their 2G customers. It alleged through their 2G network, they are charging high rates for voice calls - which Jio offers free to all its 4G-only customers. The consultation paper wants India to remain technologically stagnant and backward", Jio wrote.
The comments further add that "it was decided to move to the BAK(Bill and Keep) regime with effect from January 1, 2020. The consultation paper contradicts the authority's own approach and decisions in the past."
BAK is the replacement of IUC and while Jio wants BAK, incumbents want continuation of IUC.
"The consultation paper dated 18th September 2019 is Bad in Law", Jio said.
"The present Consultation Process violates the principles of regulatory predictability and RJIL's legitimate expectations. The Authority is also barred by the principles of promissory estoppel from embarking upon this exercise.
We submit that the present consultation process has been initiated with a pre-determined mind without considering all relevant factors and details pertaining to termination charges. We understand that, in case the Authority has accepted that there is traffic asymmetry, it is without analysis of the available data and understanding the reasons for such calculated asymmetry, Jio said.
"The Consultation paper seeks views on deferment of date of implementation of BAK regime due to perceived asymmetry of traffic, at present. However, the Authority itself decided in the IUC Regulations 2017 and soundly explained in the explanatory memorandum to the Regulations that only by removing the cost based IUC, the vicious circle of cost-based IUC till there is traffic symmetry' can be broken."
"Further, in the subsequent paragraphs 39 to 44 of these comments, RJIL has analysed the true picture behind the apparent traffic symmetry and it can be seen by the Authority that in reality, the traffic is symmetric."
It is therefore submitted that the appropriate time for the BAK regime to be implemented has already fructified and the scheduled date to commence w.e.f. 1st January 2020 cannot be interfered with, it added.
"These factors lead to a conclusion that the present consultation paper has not been issued to address traffic asymmetry, but to address the claimed financial stress of one or two operators at the cost of the interests of the subscribers and the telecom sector, and also the credibility of the Authority."
"This consideration for deferral of the BAK regime would be against public interest and bad in law. It is also worthwhile to submit that the present trend indicates that traffic asymmetry is expected to be reversed in a few months and the present receivers are expected to become payers, hence, deferring the implementation of the BAK regime is not going to steer any operator away from the purported financial stress," Jio wrote.
RJIL has so far paid nearly Rs 13,500 crore as net IUC charges to the other operators.
Disclosure: Reliance Industries, the promoter of Reliance Jio, also controls Network18, the parent company of CNBCTV18.com.