India’s telecom regulator has filed caveats in 18 high courts asking them not to take any decision without hearing the authority if carriers take the legal route to stall the implementation of a cut in the interconnect usage charge (IUC), three people familiar with the matter said.
The country’s top phone companies said the move by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) won’t alter their plans to challenge the regulator’s decision to slash IUC to 6 paise a minute starting October 1 from 14 paise now, and scrap it altogether from January 1, 2020.
IUC is paid by a mobile operator originating a call to the network where it terminates. The Trai decision had been announced on September 19.
“We hear that telcos are going to challenge the order. A direction has been given to the legal team of Trai to ensure that the regulator is informed if any telco approaches the court for seeking a stay on the IUC order,” a senior Trai official said, asking not to be named.
The companies will stick to their plan to challenge the move early next week, said a senior telecom executive.
“The decision will still be challenged. The caveat only ensures that Trai is informed and heard at the same time — it doesn’t change anything,” he said.
The window for a challenge is narrow, since the cut in IUC takes effect in about a week.
Another top executive at one of the older incumbents — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular — said that the telcos didn’t have any intention of seeking an ex-parte order in any case and would have wanted notices to be issued to the regulator for any hearing in the matter.
“The strategy is going to remain the same — to oppose the regulation and ask the court to grant an immediate stay on the regulation, which is going to financially impact the carriers,” a second senior executive told ET.
Airtel, Vodafone and Idea didn’t respond to ET’s emailed queries.
India’s older operators had wanted IUC doubled from 14 paise a minute and new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm had wanted it scrapped.
Trai chairman RS Sharma had defended the decision to slash IUC against accusations of bias and non-transparency by Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India, saying it was in the interests of consumers and the industry.
Jio, on the other hand, has rejected the contention of its rivals that it was being favoured by the regulator.