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Interconnection Agreements: TRAI makes rules stricter by mandating 30-day deadline for operators

By: ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi |

Published: January 3, 2018 1:40 am

The rules come after a consultation process began in October 2016.

Months after the debate over provision of enough points of interconnection between the existing telecom companies and new entrant Reliance Jio, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has made the network connectivity rules stricter by mandating a 30-day deadline for mobile operators to sign interconnection agreements on a non-discriminatory basis. The regulator has also fixed a daily penalty of up to Rs 1 lakh per service area for violations of the new norms.

The ‘Telecom Interconnection Regulations 2018’, which come into effect from February 1, assume importance considering the tussle between incumbents and Reliance Jio that happened in 2016, when the latter accused the large and established players such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular of not providing enough points of interconnect on their networks. This allegedly led to massive call failures for Jio subscribers.

On the other hand, the older operators blamed the free calls offered by Jio for the skew in call traffic.

In its latest regulations, the telecom watchdog has said that “every service provider shall, within thirty days of receipt of request from a service provider, enter into interconnection agreement, on non-discriminatory basis, with such service provider”. Further, it has stipulated a period of five days for service providers to respond to interconnection seekers with a draft interconnect pact. The existing norms did not mandate an explicit timeline for signing of interconnect pacts between two telecom service providers. Mobile operators enter into interconnection agreements to allow callers subscribed to one network make calls to a subsriber on another.

The rules issued on Tuesday come after a comprehensive consultation process held by Trai that began in October 2016. Trai has also set a ‘formula’ that would help identify a ceiling amount of bank guarantees in case of interconnection, instead of the current practice of such guarantees being worked out through mutual negotiation between operators.

For providing ports at the Points of Interconnect (point of exchange of network traffic), the regulator has fixed 30-day time-frame instead of the 90 days earlier. “The interconnection charges such as set-up charges and infrastructure charges may be mutually negotiated between service providers subject to the regulations or directions issued by the Authority…provided that such charges are reasonable, transparent and non-discriminatory,” Trai noted in its interconnect regulations.

Further, for disconnection of ports, a service provider would have to now give a show-cause notice of 15 working days to the other telco clearly disclosing the “reasons” for the proposed disconnection. If not satisfied by the reply or in case no reply is received, the operator will serve a 15-day notice specifying the disconnection date for points of interconnect.

In the regulations issued on Tuesday, Trai also details the rules for drafting the network connectivity agreements, along with norms for initial provisioning of such connectivity, augmentation of Points of Interconnect, applicable rates or charges, disconnection of ports, and financial disincentive on interconnection issues. The regulations will apply to all the service providers offering telecom services in India, Trai said in a statement. Trai has also outlined a framework for provisioning and augmenting of interconnectivity ports, laying down a step-by-step process in this regard.

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