Oct 10, 2008

India - Trai under fire for 'not being effective enough'

Ishita Russell & Ashish Sinha

Few of its recommendations are actually accepted by the govt.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which also regulates the broadcast sector, has come under criticism from companies in both the sectors for not being effective, even though it has gone on an overdrive this year.

Trai has submitted 26 recommendations to the government and released 30 consultation papers so far this year, up from seven and 20, respectively, in 2007. It has, on an average, fired one press release every three days this year, up from one in every four days last year.

The problem is that only a handful of its recommendations have been accepted by the government. “No doubt Trai is doing good work, but the fact remains that the government has not accepted many of its recommendations as contentious issues crop up later,” says a senior executive of a media firm.

Experts in telecom and broadcasting sectors say Trai is not spending enough time on key issues by calling for detailed deliberations between the affected parties. “The average turnaround time between the consultation process and the final recommendation on key issues in telecom and broadcast sectors has come down to three-four months from seven-nine months,” said the media executive.

In the telecom sector, several of Trai’s recommendations are pending acceptance. These include those on the modifications proposed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on spectrum usage charges and one-time spectrum enhancement charges. The DoT is yet to take a decision on Trai’s recommendations on these issues. The DoT has the final say on Trai’s recommendations related to the telecom sector.

Trai Chairman Nripendra Mishra admitted that the implementation of the tribunal’s recommendations had been slow. “The implementation is slow. The ministry accepts our proposals in principle but takes time to process them through all stages, including the Cabinet approval,” he said.

“The government does not have to accept everything we say. Our jurisdiction ends after the recommendation. We bring to their notice details which we think need to be corrected but we cannot enforce,” Mishra added.

The state of affairs is no better in the media sector. This year, Trai was instrumental in bringing tariff norms for direct-to-home (DTH) platforms, non-CAS homes and policy recommendations on several key issues affecting the sector. Both broadcasters and DTH operators allege that it was because of such tariff norms that companies had to lock horns in the TDSAT, the tribunal, and other courts.

“The number of digital subscribers in the country has doubled to 7.3 million this year but Trai’s tariff norms are instigating both broadcasters and DTH operators to fight legal battles over pricing issues, carriage fees, etc,” said a lawyer representing a leading broadcaster.

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