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TRAI: Will the Real TRAI Stand up, Please!

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VoicenData Bureau
New Update

As we still debate what would be the outcome of the ongoing messy and often

murky battle between cellular operators and limited mobility players and the

former’s tiff with TRAI, one conclusion is already there. The notion that

India doesn’t have a  regulator that is autonomous and independent of the

whims of the government has again been proved right.

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More deplorable has been the fact that whatever expectations we may have of

an effective regulatory regime are undermined not only by the unwillingness of

the regulator to stand up to political pressures but also by the lack of a

proactive approach towards finding solutions to vexing issues.

Every crisis in Indian telecom makes TRAI everybody’s favorite whipping

boy. And that’s not always without reasons. Take for example, the latest row

over interconnection between cellular and limited mobility operators. The least

the regulator could have done was to ask limited mobility operators to start

their services only after it had come out with an amendment to the existing

interconnection regime. This is something that the regulator eventually did but

only after things got murky and operators began baying for each other’s blood.

Given the fact that the existing interconnection regime was loaded against

the cellular operators, it should have anticipated what happened after Tata

Teleservices started its limited mobility service in Delhi. To say this is not

to condone what cell operators like Bharti did when they blocked calls

originating from Tata Teleservices in Delhi.

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Also, TRAI must explain why it has not yet acted against the blocking of

cellular calls by MTNL. Are state operators not part of the regulatory regime?

If what Bharti did was wrong then so was the state-owned operator’s action.

Maybe political pressures proved too much again. After all Pramod Mahajan, the

then Union Minister for Communications, justified MTNL’s action as ‘tit for

tat’ against private cellular operators and made no bones about the fact that

the MTNL’s action had his sanction. This is in contrast to the remarkable

alacrity that the regulator showed in asking cell operators in Delhi to

interconnect with Tata Teleservices’ limited mobility services.

The regulator has also been found wanting on issues that affect the consumers

directly. The fact is that TRAI has done nothing of substance on consumer

education till date. Its website (www.trai.gov.in), which ideally should have

contained useful information for users, is simply pathetic.

. While every action of TRAI affects the consumers in some way or the other,

its indifference to issues that directly affect them is sometimes unexplainable.

A case in point is the recent mobile-to-mobile STD rate cuts by cellular

operators. The operators made the consumers believe that all mobile-to-mobile

calls across the country would now cost Rs 2.99. What the operators did not tell

the consumers clearly that they would be still paying an airtime (Rs 2 per

minute on an average) over and above the STD charges. Even if the operators did

not hide this fact, they did not appear too enthusiastic about making consumers

aware of this. Most of the advertisements by cellular operators announcing the

new rates only carried the information about the additional airtime charges in

fine print. In fact, one of the leading financial dailies and a popular private

TV channel ended up reporting that mobile users would not have to pay airtime

charges on mobile-to-mobile STD! Well, if media can be mislead so easily, one

can think of what would happen to consumers.

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However, it would be too much to blame TRAI alone for all the ills that

overwhelm the Indian telecom.

The regulators are not the only souls responsible for the

current state of affairs. A major part of the blame lies on the government as

well, which has never appeared too keen on having a strong and independent

regulator. Pramod Mahajan had often given the impression that TRAI, like MTNL

and BSNL (which he often claimed to be ‘his companies’), was part of his

fiefdom. He last gave such an impression when he told an industry gathering that

he would ask TRAI to speed up certain things. And he was speaking the truth–instead

of TRAI sorting out things, it took a ministerial intervention to sort out the

latest interconnection row.

As the new telecommunication minister, Arun Shourie, settles

down in his new responsibility, he would have an arduous task of making the

regulator independent and effective. It is hoped that he would speed up the

passage of the Communications Convergence Bill that has been hanging fire for

long. He must also take initiatives to bring professionals and other men of

standing in TRAI.

Ravi Shekhar Pandey

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