The INR30.5 billion ($445 million) penalty that TRAI has levied against Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea will not be reduced in size, the Indian regulator has confirmed.
The fine was issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India after it ascertained that the top three operators (prior to the merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular) had intentionally blocked off interconnection points from Reliance Jio after the operator launched in India.
Last month, the Indian Digital Communications Commission (DCC) publicly backed TRAI’s findings, along with the assertion that the operators had effectively acted en bloc against Reliance Jio. The newcomer’s impeded interconnection access meant many of the calls made on its network failed.
While the DCC supported TRAI’s penalty, it asked the regulator to reconsider the size of the fine given that the Indian mobile market is already fiercely competitive, with operators constantly under pressure to reduce already-low tariffs. The Commission recommended reducing the penalty – currently set at INR500 million per service area – to somewhere between INR5 million and INR50 million per service area.
TRAI however claims that it is unable to alter the amount due to rules that prevent it from making revisions to submitted proposals. The DCC ultimately has the power to overrule TRAI, but it has been trying to gain the regulator’s support for reducing the penalty.