Frontline Volume 21 - Issue 26, Dec. 18 - 31, 2004
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TELECOM

The role of TRAI

SIDDHARTH NARRAIN

BSNL first complained to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on September 20 that contrary to the terms of licence and the interconnect agreement, Reliance Infocomm was passing off incoming international calls from the United States as domestic traffic to evade the Access Deficit Charge (ADC). TRAI received a similar complaint from MTNL on October 4.

Then, TRAI, instead of taking any action, passed the letters on to DoT though it was the statutory mandate of TRAI to conduct an investigation and ensure that the terms and conditions of the licence agreement are complied with.

Reliance's act of switching caller IDs was a violation of Clause 41.19 of the Unified Access Service Licence, which states that the Caller Line Identification (CLI) shall never be tampered with as it is required for security purposes and any breach of this amounts to a breach of security.

The Chairman of TRAI, Pradip Baijal, has gone on record that since the matter is a dispute, it does not come under the purview of TRAI. The creation of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) through an amendment of the Act in 2000 meant that TRAI no longer settles disputes between service providers, which is the Tribunal's job. But TRAI still has the regulatory function of ensuring that the terms and conditions of the licence agreement are always complied with.

Said Prabir Purkayastha of the Delhi Science Forum, "The regulator has taken the extremely funny position that this is a dispute and therefore it is not entering into it. Clearly, there is a regulatory issue involved, which Reliance is invoking - the so-called Home Country Direct services argument. It is a question of a regulatory clarification that the regulator needs to give, which it did not take cognisance of, and by virtue of saying that it is a dispute it is in fact endorsing Reliance's position."

Chapter III of the TRAI Act deals with the powers and functions of the authority. Section 11 1) b) i) gives TRAI the power to ensure the compliance of the terms and conditions of the licence. Section 11 1) a) iii) gives the regulator the power either on its own initiative or on a request from the licensor, to recommend revocation of a licence for non-compliance of terms and conditions. So, when Reliance's violation of the Unified Access Service Licence was brought to the notice of TRAI, it was the regulator's duty to act. To discharge this function, TRAI, under Section 13 and Section 12 4) of the Act, can issue directions to the service provider.

TRAI has extensive powers to conduct an investigation or call for information. Baijal argued that TRAI "does not have the organisational structure to carry out investigations of this nature, which involve tracing calls, etc. DoT has a well-established Vigilance Wing, which carries out such investigations as a normal practice". Section 12 of the TRAI Act gives TRAI the power to institute an enquiry in relation to the affairs of a service provider and to direct its officers to inspect the books of account and other documents. Section 29 of the TRAI Act gives the TRAI the power to penalise an operator for violating its directions.

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