Smaller operators within the Cellular Operators Association of India

Smaller operators within the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) want call termination charges, currently paid to carriers on whose networks phone calls are received, to be brought down sharply, bringing to the fore differences with bigger carriers over this controversial subject.
The COAI has deplored the proposal of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to scrap call termination charges but two telco executives aware of the nuances within the GSM industry body said that position does not take into account the views of the smaller telcos like Norway’s Telenor, Aircel and Videocon Telecom.
“That (COAI’s) position does not adequately represent the views of smaller operator members” who want a steep reduction in inter-network call termination rates, which would benefit their businesses and bring down consumer tariffs, one of the two said, asking not to be named.
The people cited above said COAI’s position on call termination charges is primarily that of its three biggest members, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular. The GSM industry body, in turn, has maintained that only Reliance Jio Infocomm has a divergent view on the issue. Jio has accused the COAI of becoming the mouthpiece of certain dominant telcos.
COAI Director General Rajan Mathews acknowledged that “there had been conversations on lowering Interconnect Usage Charges (call termination rates), but doing away with them all together had never been a submission by anyone other than Jio”. Last year, the sector regulator had lowered the termination charge at 14 paise per minute from 20 paise, a move which has been challenged in court by the big three.
The Indian unit of Telenor, for instance, favours any interconnect regulation that would help bring down call tariffs. In response to ET’s email query, a company spokesman said Telenor India “welcomes any move that benefits subscribers”.
In an earlier response to Trai’s previous consultation paper on Interconnect Usage Charges (IUC) over a year ago, the erstwhile Uninor (since renamed Telenor India) had batted for determination of mobile/fixed call termination charges through a cost-based approach, which would result in lower termination charges, which in turn, would benefit consumers.
Aircel, in its submission to Trai, had noted that “at current cost levels, domestic termination charges could be reduced to 10 paise/minute, which would provide relief to customers by way of tariff reduction”. One of India’s smallest GSM carriers, Videocon Telecom, had then backed the “Bill & Keep approach” — also suggested by Jio — and had called for abolishing call termination charges, which was directly in conflict with COAI’s position on the issue.
This time round, the smaller telcos have declined to go on-record on whether they hold a divergent position from COAI’s on termination charges or favour Trai’s call for scrapping it given the sensitivities involved, but privately reiterate that the charge should fall.
“The COAI does not put forth or comment upon individual operator’s , preferences. The final position taken is subject to a discussion under rules of procedure. That alone is the final outcome for which COAI remains answerable,” Mathews said in an email response to ET’s queries.