The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) Chairman Nripendra Misra has a lot on his hands.
The industry regulator wants to rationalise the cost of short message services (SMS) to help consumers, monitor an upcoming policy for third-generation (3G) mobile phone services, and has to tackle criticism that TRAI is not doing enough for consumers. M Rajendran met the man on the hot seat for an interview.
Q: A perception is emerging that TRAI is more focused on operators than consumers. What do you think?
It is the other way round. Our thrust is to help consumers as can be seen from the slew of measures taken in the last six months.
Q: But you recently said that the interest of the operators has to be protected as they bring in FDI (foreign direct investment).
Yes, but it has to be understood that, operators build the network of telecom and made investments. I cannot abolish the actors or ignore them either. But consumer's interest will remain paramount.
Q: So in your assessment that telecom consumers are happy?
Happiness is comparative, but yes, consumers are satisfied. They could be happier if human interactions between them and telecom companies need to improve. That is my concern. Companies need to be sensitive about each individual subscriber and just not groups.
Q: Why should the consumer have to anything from 20 paise to Rs 6 and even more, when it is estimated that the cost for an SMS is less than five paise for an operator? Why are you allowing them to do it?
Common economics and the principles of regulations teach me that there should be least intervention. Regulate where you must. It is for this that we have kept tariff on forbearance. Yes, the SMS rates are not cost-based. But, voice calls in India at two cents are the lowest. There is a degree of cross-subsidization. Operators, assess the consumers' capacity to pay and the demand for a service. So, it is best to left to the operators to decide.
But we have not given forbearance on SMS tariff for ever. We have made an appeal to the telecom companies to rationalize the SMS cost structure. We are keeping a close watch and expect a reasonable gesture to our appeal.
Q: Recent comments on 3G, both by TRAI and the Communications Ministry indicate of a tussle. Is there one?
: There is no question of a tussle. Our role is limited to making recommendations. The decision-making is of the DoT (Department of Telecommunications). We cannot impose anything on them. We have given our best judgment. And we are equally conscious that in all cases, the best judgment of the TRAI and the best judgment of the DoT may not always match. So there can be finer modulations as DoT has many more considerations in the decision-making process.
Q: Congestion in telecom networks remains a problem despite the TRAI's best efforts. Is the regulator helpless?
The regulator is not helpless, as it is also the goal of telecom companies. At the last meeting with telecom companies, we resolved 90 per cent of the cases. One of the important functions of the TRAI as per the Act is interconnection. But the intervention of the TRAI is only at last stage, this area is making us little helpless.
We have sought an amendment in the licences of operators in a manner that would recognize the primacy of the TRAI in interconnection issues. Further, the matter is before the Supreme Court.