Nripendra Misra, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) does not hide his disappointment while talking of third generation (3G) telecom services. That the auction of 3G spectrum has been indefinitely deferred is a case study for policymakers, he says. And while he refuses to comment on whether it is fair to allow the two PSUs -- BSNL and MTNL -- to offer 3G before private operators, Mishra does concede the lack of a level playing field.

Meanwhile, several top bureaucrats and other biggies are learnt to be in the race for the Trai chairman's chair, which gets vacant at the end of this month. Irrespective of who takes the hot seat next, Misra told DNA, the high tradition of objectivity and impartiality of the post should be maintained. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

On regrets over delay in 3G telecom services
I have huge regrets about 3G not taking off on time.
On what went wrong with 3G
I don't know, I can't comment on what went wrong. But I can surely say that our recommendations given in 2006 were after a great deal of deliberation.

Perhaps, decision-making could have been expedited by having some top-level consultations with Trai, both formal and informal. Today, the situation is that theaverage consumer is asking, "Why am I deprived of this facility?" So, surely, everyone has to answer that question, including the regulator.

On who is responsible for 3G auction being deferred
It's not a question of responsibility. I'm not saying that DoT is responsible. I'm not saying anybody is responsible. But what is the final product? I think it is a case study which should be looked at by the policymakers to find out what went wrong. That's important. It's not a question of responsibility. It is about lesson-learning.

On when the auction for 3G services would be held
I won't hazard any guess on the matter.
On the fairness of letting BSNL and MTNL offer 3G before others
This is not a question of fair or unfair. The government has taken a view that PSUs would be allocated 3G spectrum. Government is the custodian of the spectrum, and it has taken a view. They are the managers of spectrum. There is one principle for which Trai is the custodian, and that is level playing field.

Obviously, the level playing field has been hit. But when I say this, I'm certainly not commenting on the fairness and unfairness of the government decision. That's not my domain.

On the recent DoT statement that it had accepted the Trai recommendation on allowing MVNO, and that it was awaiting certain clarifications from the Authority before issuing guidelines
The letter to us came on February 24 (the day DoT issued a statement saying it had accepted the Trai recommendations on MVNO). It (the DoT letter) is in the nature of legal requirement. To differ with our recommendations, they had to send out those points on which they do not agree.

We are required to send our reply within 15 days. The list is long -- there are at least 10 to 12 points on which the DoT hasn't agreed with the Trai recommendations on allowing MVNOs in India. We are unclear on the meaning of the DoT statement that it accepts the Trai recommendations on MVNO. Maybe, they have just accepted the concept of allowing MVNOs in India.

On the success of the regulation to check unsolicited commercial communication

The provisions for non-compliance should be more rigorous. It is not rigorous today because Trai does not have the unquestioned powers to penalise non-compliant stakeholders, be it telemarketers or telecom service provider. Despite that, the results have been good. We are still getting some (unsolicited marketing) calls and at times SMS messages. There are also some complaints from fixed telephony.
On financial disincentive imposed on telcos for violation of telemarketing norms

All of them (telcos) have deposited money, except MTNL. But all of them have deposited money under protest, without any compromise with their right to file a case in TDSAT (Telecom Dispute Settlement and Arbitration Tribunal). That shows what kind of powers and teeth I have. It's a Rs 1,000 fine and this is the reply I get.

One of the PSUs has not deposited that also. If they go to TDSAT, we will fight the case. The point I'm making is telemarketing norms are not 100% successful because those rigorous provisions which could impose 100% discipline are not available.

On not recommending any horizontal cross-media restrictions
At this stage, we are at crossroads. We must recognise that media in general is not in a happy state. The economic meltdown has affected the media significantly. I have reports about serious measures being taken by the media to cope with the situation. There's challenge on the advertising money; there's a challenge on people's capacity to pay for media and entertainment.

In a scenario like this, a very restrictive philosophy won't work. So, we have very clearly said that there is no need for any horizontal cross-media restrictions. On vertical cross-media ownerships, we have said that the creator of the content (broadcasters) and the deliverers (distributing platforms like cable, direct-to-home and mobile TV, etc) should not dance together.

On the timeline for introduction of cross-media rules
It's up to the information and broadcasting ministry to accept it. I don't see it coming up in the next six months.
On the likely Trai recommendations over the next 15 days
They are likely to be on interconnect usage charges, lock-in period of promoters' equity, rural telephony, improving upon the regulation on quality of service issues for DTH operators, and reference interconnect offer. So there is a lot to be done.
On what is left undone

Everyday something is happening, and it is a modular kind of a chain. You may complete regulations in 2G, then there will be challenges in 3G. Even if you complete 3G, there will be challenges in broadband wireless. And each one of them will have issues.
Finally, the NGN (next generation network) has to be done. Rural telephony anyway will run parallel to all these efforts. So, you should not see this as something undone. This is a kind of challenge that will be there. The challenge of falling ARPU (average revenue per user) will remain; you have to ensure that companies have surplus funds for infrastructure. Quality of service will any way remain a permanent feature. We have to recognise that it is an evolving situation, and there is huge work to be done still.
On introduction of mobile number portability

The government did not agree with our recommendation on the auction for the national traffic controller. Government has gone for beauty parade... and shortlisted two companies. Now the burden has come on us that we have to determine the porting charge.

We have to take into account 100 considerations for that. We have to start the consultation process now. I would not like t say when number portability can be introduced as it is in the domain of the DoT. The minister has said August...
On the significance of deregulation

There are certain formats on which decisions are taken. For instance, Trai should look at deregulation. All top international regulators look into that also. At some stage, Trai will also undertake that. I can't speak on behalf of that because I don't think that decision will be taken in my regime.
On any friendly advice he would like to offer to the next Trai chairman
None, whatsoever. Every chairman has his own style and priorities. I don't speak about my three years, but will surely speak about my predecessors. They have left a very high tradition of objectivity and impartiality, neutrality and high degree of autonomy and work culture. I feel that this finest regulatory authority in the country must remain like this.