The telecommunication sector in India has had phenomenal growth ever since the first licenses for mobile services were issued In November 1994. At that time, only eight licenses were issued: two each in the four metros.
Prior to that, India had only fixed lines and the tele-density was below 3%. The introduction of telecom licenses for the private players in 1994 led to a massive growth of wireless telephony in the country. The country today boasts of the latest technologies deployed in its telecommunications network.
From a per minute tariff of Rs 16 to call rates of a few paise and data downloads to the tune of 10 Gb per capita, it has been a remarkable journey. The overall countrywide data download is almost seven exabytes. All the apps that make our day-to-day life easier ride on the telecom infrastructure.
Most importantly, the various apps of banks, Universal Payment Interface (UPI), and a number of wallets that make payment easier and swifter are all running on the telecom network. In fact, telecom has become the backbone for services across the sectors.
Recap of history
We, at the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), can rightfully take the credit for many of these achievements due to our policy of forbearance in tariff matters. We have also successfully guided the service providers to a fair and equitable regime of interconnection.
TRAI was established in 1997 through an Act of Parliament. By 1999, we came up with the tariff regulation principles whereby the market was segregated as rural and urban. Within the urban category, there was further segregation of usage as low, general, and commercial. This paved the way for protection of consumers. However, by 2003 the tariff was placed in forbearance indicating our approach towards light-touch regulation of the market.
The first framework for interconnection of telecom networks was brought about in 2002. With a view to encourage usage of cellular mobile services and bring about an increase in the subscriber base, TRAI notified the Telecommunication Interconnection Usage Charges (IUC) Regulation, 2003. This regulation was responsible for introduction of the calling party pay (CCP) regime in the country. It also fixed the call termination charge for the first time. This led service providers to offer flexible tariff plans to subscribers.
Protecting consumers’ interest
TRAI has always facilitated fair competition in the market and protected the interest of consumers. Keeping this in view, the mobile number portability (MNP) service was launched in the country. MNP is a facility that allows mobile telephone subscribers to retain the mobile telephone number when they opt to move from one access provider to another access provider in the same or another licensed service area, irrespective of the mobile technology and licensed service area or from one cellular mobile technology to another of the same access provider.
MNP is essential for maintaining competition in the telecom sector. By making it easy for users to switch operators if they are dissatisfied or otherwise require a change, MNP ensures that users are not locked into a particular telecom service and thus imposes a competitive constraint on telecom operators.
Intra circle porting was launched in 2009, followed by “One Nation—Full Mobile Number Portability” in 2015. So far, more than 461 million portings have taken place in the country. TRAI is making this process further smoother and reducing the time taken in porting from five days to three days.
The protection of consumer interests lies at the heart of telecom regulation and almost all of the policy and regulatory initiatives in this space are grounded in the need to promote better outcomes for telecom users in terms of availability, affordability, and quality of service (QoS).
Initiatives such as tariff regulation, regulating interconnection charges, monitoring QoS, ensuring transparency, etc., all find their bases in the need to protect consumer interests and promote healthy competition in the sector. In addition to these, TRAI has also undertaken several other actions that have been aimed specifically at protecting consumer interests and ensuring that they have access to appropriate redressal mechanisms.
Deterring pesky calls
Transparency in tariff and provision of other information to consumers has been a focus area for TRAI, to promote consumer welfare. To enhance consumer awareness, the Authority has continually refined its transparency requirements through provisions of the TTO as well as other regulations, directions, and guidelines issued to service providers.
With a view to regulate the unsolicited calls from telemarketers, the Authority issued the ‘The Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations, 2007,’ whereby a National Do Not Call registry was put into place. This was setup to curb unsolicited commercial and telemarketing calls that a customer did not wish to receive. With effect from February 2011, this was renamed as the National Customer Preference Register (NCPR).
The NCPR is a national database containing a list of the telephone numbers of all subscribers who have registered their preferences regarding receipt of commercial communications. As per TRAI guidelines, companies are prohibited from making unsolicited commercial communication with subscribers who have registered themselves in the NCPR. In other words, promotional calls cannot be made to customers who have registered with the NCPR.
TRAI has introduced a digital ledger technology-based system for blocking unsolicited commercial calls (UCC) through its regulation of July 2018. This is a pioneering use of technology not tried before, anywhere in the world.
The TRAI website is a mine for data crunchers. TRAI transparently shares the data received from service providers. We encourage users of the TRAI website to register themselves to receive alerts whenever some documents are available in their chosen field. The choice can be registered by the user through a few simple steps.
TRAI follows a very transparent consultation process that has been appreciated in many quarters. Many regulators worldwide have acknowledged our way of consultation and keenly observe our activities through our website and frequent video conferencing with us. We have co-operation of understanding with 15 countries from different regions.
The regulator has started working on various aspects of the New Digital Communication Policy (NDCP) 2018. In this regard, we have issue consultation papers on issues ranging from increasing scope of work of infrastructure providers, enabling unbundling of different layers through differential licensing, cloud services, unified numbering plan, issues in mergers and acquisitions, sharing of infrastructure, etc.
Our focus in next few months is going to be on improving in-building coverage by bringing various stakeholders together in improving the quality of signal.
– Dr. RS Sharma.
— The author is Chairman, TRAI.