Indian telecom regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has imposed a fine of around INR 2.97 crore on Indian telecom operator Idea Cellular for over-charging its subscribers for making calls to BSNL and MTNL networks. The regular has asked the operator to refund the extra charged amount back to the affected subscribers. Unluckily, you won’t be getting that refund money, as the operator has said to have no call data records of that period. In that case, the regulator has asked Idea cellular to fully deposit the money to Telecom Consumers Education and Protection Fund (TCEPF).
“…the Authority hereby directs M/s Idea to deposit the amount of Rs 2,97,90,173 charged in excess from its subscribers during the period from May 2005 to January 2007, as computed by M/s Idea, in TCEPF and report compliance within 15 days of issue of this Direction,” said the new Direction dated 24 August, 2017 by TRAI.
The original case
The issue dates back to May 2005, when Department of Telecom (DoT) amended licences of CMTS/UAS/Basic and NLD Services to permit inter-service area connectivity among telecom operators within four states — Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. As per the amended licence conditions, calls within each of these four States were treated as intra-service area calls or local calls for the purpose of call routing and levy of access deficit charge ADC.
Despite this change, several private telecom operators in these four states were charging a higher tariff for calls terminating in the mobile networks of state-run telecom operators BSNL and MTNL compared to calls terminating in the networks of other private operators, falling within the geographical boundary of these states. In addition to that, the regulator received complaints from subscribers about this differential higher call rates being charged by private telecom operators for calls from one service area to another service area within the same State terminating in BSNL and MTNL networks.
The regulator through its Direction dated 27th February 2006, directed telecom operators in these four states to immediately discontinue differential tariff and report compliance of the same to TRAI. But, GSM operators and their representative association COAI challenged the regulator direction in telecom tribunal TDSAT and kept on charging a higher tariff for calls made to BSNL and MTNL networks in paired circles.
However, TDSAT on December 2006 dismissed the appeal of COAI, following which the industry body moved to Supreme Court. After, around 9 years on January 2015 the Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of COAI. Thus TRAI asked the private telecom operators to comply with the original Direction dated back March 2007.