Members of Parliament recently asked telecom regulator TRAI to remove mobile interconnect usage charges (IUC) to lower call rates.
TRAI, which is reviewing its IUC policy, today conducted an open house discussion on the issue. MPs from both the houses, telecom operators and industry stakeholders, among others participated in the discussion.
“When TRAI has submitted before Supreme Court in 2011 that it will end termination charge on mobile calls in 2014 than it should have done it. At least now remove it so that burden on consumers is lowered and calls are made more affordable,” Lok Sabha MP Ninong Ering said in the open house. Telecom operators levy interconnect usage charge (IUC) on incoming calls from the network of other operator. These charges are passed on to subscribers by service providers.
At present, operators charge 14 paise for every incoming calls on their network which is paid by company from which the call originates. Ering, who represents Arunanchal East constituency, said that the government also needs to take steps to increase telecom connectivity in the northeast region. Congress leader Rashid Alvi questioned TRAI issuing 14 paise mobile termination charges after its submission before the apex court that it should be 10 paise till 2014 and then made zero.
“TRAI should follow international practice of making termination charge zero and pave way for encouraging new technologies in the country,” Alvi said. Rajya Sabha MP Majeed Memon cited his past letters written to TRAI and said that zero IUC provides flexibility for all telecom operators to invest more in the network and offer better tariffs. “It is very surprising that even after so many advantages of BAK, it was not adopted and consumers are burdened to pay higher charges for off-net calls,” Memon said.
He also spoke against telecom operators logic for demanding high IUC because of asymmetry in call traffic. “Traffic asymmetry will always exist in a competitive market. Whenever any operator start offering cheaper tariffs, consumer will make more outgoing calls from that network and outgoing traffic from that particular network will be higher,” Memon said. Incumbent telecom operators- Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular have been demanding that present IUC is low and it should be fixed at around 30-35 paise while new entrant Reliance Jio has said that the cost of transmitting calls is very less at around 0.07 paise per minute.
Lok Sabha MP Prem Singh Chandumajra said that there situation to hold present consultation round would have not arise, if TRAI had implemented its decision of moving to Bill and Keep regime. “TRAI should clarify why it did not implement Bill and Keep regime as per its submission made before Supreme Court? Consumers have been unnecessary burdened by paying extra. TRAI should immediately withdraw 14 paise IUC and benefit should be passed on to consumers,” Chandumajra said.
He said that those who can afford high cost have no problem but problem is for around 25 crore who cannot afford expensive mobile phones.
Lok Sabha MP YV Subba Reddy, Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy and some other politicians also participated in the discussion and spoke in favour of removing mobile termination charges for lowering call rates. TRAI in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court in 2011 had said telecom operators should be given time till 2014 to move to the bill and keep (BAK) regime. Under this, operators only keep record of incoming calls on their network, but do not raise any demand from other operators.