Millennium Post

TRAI to review procedural bottlenecks in telecom business

Regulator TRAI today stressed the need to identify bottlenecks that make the functioning of telecom business difficult in India and listed out processes such as licence acquisition, spectrum allotment and mergers that can be reviewed.

"...the Authority is of the opinion that various processes that a telecom licensee is required to go through should be simplified and combined to the extent possible to economise on efforts on part of the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) as well as the government," TRAI said.

The regulator said it is important to identify the "bottlenecks, obstacles or hindrances" that are making it difficult to do telecom business in India and thus, require "regulatory intervention".

Some of the processes that could be up for review as part of "ease of doing telecom business" include procedures related to unified licence, including acquisition of licence, compliance with commercial, financial, technical conditions, and compliance with roll-out obligations, payment of licence fee, financial bank guarantee and performance bank guarantee, adding and surrendering authorisations under the licence.

Other issues outlined by TRAI include spectrum allotment and use, assignment and clearance process for the airwaves, approval process for spectrum trading and sharing.

As part of the process overhaul, TRAI would also look at the merger and acquisition policy, significantly so as the Indian telecom industry has been in a midst of consolidation drive.

Last month, telecom operator Bharti Airtel announced it will acquire Norwegian Telenor's India unit, signalling a fresh round of industry consolidation that has intensified in the wake of disruptive entry of newcomer Reliance Jio.

Vodafone and Idea have already said that they are considering merging their businesses in India, a move that would create the biggest telecom operator in the country with about USD 12 billion in sales.

Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications has already signed a pact to merge its wireless business with smaller rival Aircel. Besides mergers and acquisition, TRAI will also consider streamlining processes for telecom services using satellite media, including clearances from INSAT Network Operations Control Center, and obtaining clearances from various authorities.

"In addition, there can be processes in other areas which may be requiring simplification...the stakeholders are requested to identify such areas of concern and review the existing processes and suggest mechanisms that ease the business activity," TRAI said.

The industry will have to submit views by April 11, after which TRAI will "analyse them and if required, take further necessary action for simplification of processes".

Want fresh look into Tata-Docomo arbitral award: RBI tells HC

The RBI on Tuesday told the Delhi High Court that it wants to take a fresh look into the USD 1.17 billion arbitral award granted in favour of Japanese telecom major NTT Docomo for Tata Sons' alleged breach of its agreement.

Justice S Muralidhar, however, did not agree with the stand taken by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), saying "there is no point in going over it all over again".

"RBI has already undertaken the exercise (of looking into the award) twice over. It might be better to tell the court, whether there is any statutory provision or regulation barring transfer of money overseas under the award," the judge said.

The court also said that "in every private award, RBI cannot step in" and gave the bank time till tomorrow to show the rule, regulation or circular which comes in the way of implementation of the award.

Senior advocate Soli Sorabjee, appearing for the RBI, told the court that the bank would not press its application to intervene in the matter if it can take a fresh look into the award granted in favour of Docomo.

This contention was opposed by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Darius Khambata, appearing for Docomo and Tata Sons respectively.

They said that on March 8, the court had asked RBI to make its stand clear by showing the rule, regulation or circular under which the bank's permission is required before transfer of money overseas under the award.

The lawyers for the two companies said that the RBI cannot keep it open ended by looking into afresh. The court also agreed with the companies contention, saying the RBI cannot go round and round on the same issue.

The RBI has opposed the consent terms arrived at between Tata Sons and Docomo with regard to the enforceability of the award granted in favour of the Japanese telecom major by the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) in June 2016.

The RBI has also contended that that the shareholding agreement between the two companies permitting transfer of funds abroad was illegal as it violated the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) Regulations.

Streamline audits: COAI

Cellular operators' body COAI on Tuesday hoped that Trai's review of bottlenecks in the telecom sector will help iron out the outstanding issue of computation of gross revenue and streamline multiple audits that companies face. "The audit process by multiple agencies in areas like revenue, billing accuracy and customer acquisition costs can be streamlined," COAI Director General Rajan Mathews said.
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