Telcos refute Trai accusation of cartelisation in Supreme Court


NEW DELHI: Telephone service providers have refuted the remarks Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) made in the Supreme Court on Thursday, which amounted to accusing them of cartelisation, and urged authorities not to use such harsh language at any forum.
Calling the remarks “misplaced, baseless and rather misleading”, the telcos in a statement said that they are “surprised and are deeply dismayed” by the fierce attack on them by the regulator while arguing against a petition filed by carriers against a Delhi High Court ruling upholding Trai penalties on call drops.
Arguing for Trai before Supreme Court, attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi on Thursday said, “This is a cartel of four-five players in a country of a billion. They earn huge revenues and couldn’t be bothered about consumer satisfaction.” He said the companies were earning up to 61 per cent profit but only investing 5 per cent in infrastructure and were only interested in signing up more subscribers without fixing call drops.
Trai’s arguments before the Supreme Court will continue on Tuesday. Telcos on Friday said the comments were incorrect. They said the Indian telecom industry has connected a billion people and charge the lowest tariffs in the world, but pay among the highest spectrum charges and other levies.
“The industry has leveraged its financial ability and taken on debt to the tune of Rs 3.8 lakh crore to further invest a cumulative figure of over Rs 8 lakh crore, not only to meet its service obligations but in strongly partnering the government at every step,” the telcos said in the letter under the banner of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

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On Thursday, Rajan Mathews, director-general of COAI, had said the industry buys airwaves worth $8-10 billion each year and invests another $7-8 billion in infrastructure, after which telcos pay 15 per cent of annual revenue in licence fees, spectrum usage charges.
Taken with other levies, telcos pay around 28%-30% of their annual revenue in some form of fees or taxes to the government, the association said.

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“We, therefore, respectfully request and urge the concerned authorities to refrain from the use of such harsh and unsubstantiated language at any forum against the telecom service providers, which is not only uncalled for but also projects them in a poor light,” it said.
It noted that telcos had made substantial contributions to the country’s socio-economic landscape through generation of multiple tax revenues, employment, as well in acting as a major growth engine and driver to the Internet economy.
At the heart of the issue was Trai’s October 16, 2015, regulation that mandated telcos to pay Rs 1 to users for each dropped call, capped a maximum of three a day, starting January 1, 2016.
Rohatgi on Thursday said Trai’s levy was the least invasive method that could be used to galvanise the sector into dealing with consumer concerns.