Telecom Industry Regulatory Framework

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997
  • The main objective of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 (TRAI Act) was to establish the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).
  • The main purpose of these two institutions established under the TRAI Act is to regulate telecommunication services, adjudicate disputes, dispose appeals and protect the interest of the service providers as well as the consumers.
TRAI (Amendment) Act, 2000
  • The TRAI Act was amended through the TRAI (Amendment) Act, 2000 (“Amendment Act”). Before the amendment, TRAI exercised both regulatory and dispute resolution functions.
  • The Amendment Act established the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to solely deal with relevant disputes.
  • The Amendment act also clarified that the directions issued by the Government are binding on TRAI.
Government Control over TRAI
TRAI is not a completely independent telecom regulator. The Government exercises certain amount of control over TRAI. Under section 25 of the Act it has the power to issue directions which are binding on TRAI. The TRAI is also funded by the Central Government.
Constitution of TRAI
  • Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was established as a corporation under Section 3 of the Act. The head office of TRAI is in New Delhi.
  • TRAI constitutes of a chairperson and less than two, full time and part-time members.
  • The chairperson and the members of TRAI are appointed by the Central Government and the duration for which they can hold their office is three years or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • The persons who are appointed should have special knowledge and prior experience in the field of telecommunication, industry, finance, accountancy, law, management or consumer affairs.
  • If someone, who has been in the service of the Government prior to appointment then he should have served the Government in the capacity of a Secretary or Additional Secretary for a period more than three years.
  • All questions before TRAI will be decided by a majority vote of the members, present and voting. The person who is presiding the meeting will entitled to a second or casting vote.
Functions of TRAI
The 2000 Amendment classified the TRAI’s functions into four broad categories:
  • Making recommendations on various issues;
  • General administrative and regulatory functions;
  • Fixing tariffs and rates for telecom services; and
  • Any other functions entrusted by the Central Government.
  • The recommendations made by the TRAI are not binding on the Central Government.
  • TRAI also has the power to notify in the official gazette the rates at which telecommunication services are being provided in and outside India.
Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal
The Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (Tribunal) is established under section 14 of the Act. It is the sole dispute resolution body in the communication sector. It can adjudicate upon any dispute between:
  • Licensor (Central Government) and a licensee.
  • Two or more service providers.
  • Between a service provider and a group of consumers.
However, the Tribunal does not have any jurisdiction to try any matter which deals with anti-competitive trade practices or any consumer complaint.
Grounds and Procedures for Appeal to the Tribunal
  • The Central Government, State Government, any local authority or any person can approach the Tribunal for adjudication on matters related to dispute between parties mentioned above.
  • An appeal can be referred to the Tribunal in case any party is aggrieved by the decision of TRAI.
  • An appeal from the Tribunal’s final order in a matter can be directly referred to the Supreme Court.
  • The Tribunal consists of a chairperson and two other members, appointed by the Central Government. Selection of chairperson and the two members is done in consultation with Chief Justice of India.
  • The minimum qualification for a Chairperson is that he is or has been a judge of the Supreme Court or a Chief Justice of a High Court and the minimum qualification for a member is that he should have been at the post of a secretary to the Central Government or at any equivalent post in the Central Government.
  • A person can also be qualified as a member of the Tribunal if he has held the position of Secretary under the State Government for a period more than two years and has knowledge and experience in technology, telecommunication, industry, commerce or administration.
  • The Chairperson can hold office till he attains the age of 75 or completes three years, whichever is earlier. The members of the Tribunal can hold office till they attain the age of 65 years or complete three years, whichever is earlier.
  • The Civil Procedure Code, 1908 which lays down the procedure of the conventional courts is not applicable to the Tribunal. Thus, Tribunal does not have the status of a civil court.

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