Thomas K. Thomas

New Delhi, March 1

THE Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is pitching in for powers to impose penalty on operators that offer services below the prescribed quality norms. Interestingly, the telecom regulator has sought the opinion of the service providers whether additional powers should be conferred, by amending the TRAI Act.

In a consultation paper on revising the quality of service norms, TRAI has said that the absence of powers to directly impose penalty on erring operators have made the regulation on quality of services meaningless. As per the current policy, TRAI can only set the standards for offering quality of service and monitor the progress made by the operators. Though the regulator can refer any violations to the Department of Telecom and recommend a penalty on operators, it does not have any independent authority to impose punitive measures.

"In areas where there is not enough competition, the operators do not make the investment required to improve the quality of service. Though the regulator points out the low standards of services to these operators during the survey conducted periodically, it is not binding on them. Therefore, in the interest of consumers, it is felt that the TRAI should be given powers to impose penalty against such operators," said a senior TRAI official.

In the consultation paper, TRAI has pointed to similar powers conferred on the telecom regulators in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia where the respective regulators can impose a penalty on operators who offer below standard services.

Telecom operators, on the other hand, are not in favour of conferring such powers to TRAI. Operators said that already DoT has the authority to penalise operators. That apart, the standards developed by TRAI for quality of services needs to be reviewed to make it achievable before thinking of penalty issues, said operators.

Once the industry gives its input on the issue, TRAI will send its recommendations to the Government seeking an amendment of the current policy.

TRAI has increasingly been seeking more powers for itself in the recent months. It has also sought powers to adjudicate disputes between operators over interconnection issues. This apart, the regulator has also asked the government to give financial independence by funding it from the money collected from the operators as licence fee instead of funding its operations from the Consolidated Fund of India.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 2, 2005)
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