In a surprise about-face, India’s Digital Communications Commission (DCC) has confirmed its support for the fines issued to Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea by the regulator TRAI.
Totalling INR30.5 billion ($445 million), the penalties were recommended by the regulator after evidence emerged that Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular had conspired to block interconnection access to incoming operator Reliance Jio in 2016.
While the DCC supported this conclusion, in June it called for TRAI to reconsider the size of the fines given that the fiercely competitive mobile market has forced tariffs into a race to the bottom. The DCC argued that operators should be fined INR5 million-INR50 million per service area rather than TRAI’s proposed INR500 million per service area, but earlier this month TRAI rejected the DCC’s request.
The Economic Times reported that the operators are likely to bring legal action against the fines, with Airtel saying it would discuss the “arbitrary” penalties with the “appropriate forum”. The third-placed player added that operators were already under intense pressure in the market, and the fines would be a hindrance to the Indian government’s Digital India initiative.
Vodafone Idea stated that it would consider all available options, including legal action.