COAI urges TRAI to consider online open house discussion on “pressing” floor price issue

NEW DELHI: As businesses turn to virtual alternates amid the coronavirus outbreak, COAI has suggested that telecom sector regulator TRAI could consider the suitability of holding its customary open house discussion online to resolve the “pressing” floor price issue.

Sources close to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), however, felt that such a solution may not be practical given that an issue as important as floor price of tariffs, needs to be widely-debated especially with consumer participation at an appropriate time, and not be turned into a hurried and limited exercise.

In any case, the comments and counter comments on the said consultation paper have closed only recently and TRAI will study the responses over the next few days, they said.

Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) Director General, Rajan Mathews told PTI that since the responses have already come in, an open house through online mechanisms could be explored by TRAI.

“The bulk of responses have already come in through written comments, and additional inputs, if any, can be given via suitable alternates like an online or electronic open house forum, in case TRAI wants. Floor price is a pressing need of the industry,” Mathews said.

Mathews, however pointed out that this was a call for TRAI to take after considering various factors like extent of online accessibility for stakeholders including the general public.

When contacted, TRAI Secretary SK Gupta said any suggestion of telecom service providers to do open house on electronic medium “needs to be analysed considering the provisions of transparency in TRAI Act.”

In its comments to TRAI consultation paper on ”tariff issues of telecom services”, the final responses for which closed recently, the troubled Vodafone Idea warned that the Indian telecom market may move towards a position of “virtual monopoly” if TRAI does not intervene in tariff fixation.

Meanwhile, Airtel cited “huge existential and financial crisis” to bat for fixation of floor price for two years. Reliance Jio has termed the fixation of floor price for data services as “vital” for the health of telecom sector, and urged TRAI to continue the policy of forbearance for voice services, which it said is the preferred telecom service of the subscribers at the bottom of the pyramid.

Jio had further said hike in floor price should be undertaken gradually and be fixed at Rs 15 per GB for now — against the prevailing Rs 9 to 12 per GB — and taken to Rs 20 per GB after six to nine months depending on the data consumption growth.

The issue of floor price setting of tariffs assumes significance given that telecom companies are staring at massive Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) payouts to Government.

Telcos like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Tata Group are in a bind as their combined self-assessment of dues to the government are a whopping Rs 82,300 crore, short of what the telecom department calculated after the Supreme Court’s ruling on AGR.

The apex court has lashed out at the telcos for trying to reopen the dues they owed to the government through the self-assessment exercise.

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