Vaghela takes the reins of the regulatory body at a time the sector has been reduced to three private mobile phone operators from 10 before September 2016 and is just emerging from the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) which had threatened to reduce the sector to a duopoly.
Industry executives say Vaghela’s moves on the issue of fixing a floor for at least data services will be keenly watched.
The operators had been aggressively pushing for a floor price to improve the health of the sector, which practically forced Trai to issue a consultation paper in December 2019. But the regulator – which has been against fixing any floor – has not taken any steps, such as holding open house discussions, even months after the telcos submitted their views.
Vaghela may also be called upon to relook at the base price of 5G base spectrum, termed as very expensive by all three private telcos, say experts.
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet had approved Vaghela’s appointment as the new Trai chairperson for a three-year period or till he attains the age of 65 years, the Department of Personnel & Training had said in a notification late Monday.
A 1986 batch Indian Administrative Service officer, Vaghela was previously commissioner of commercial tax in Gujarat and played a crucial role in the rollout of the goods and services tax in 2017. More recently, he was chairman of the Empowered Group-3, which was responsible for production, procurement, import and distribution channels of medical gear, including PPEs, masks and ventilators amid the Covid-19 crisis.
“The industry is keenly looking for the leadership and support of the regulator and government for creating a more stable regulatory environment which is essential for further growth of the digital services sector,” SP Kochhar, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, representing Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea had told ET on Vaghela’s appointment.
Under Vaghela, the regulatory body will have to walk a tightrope to help maintain profitability and viability of the sector and ensure consumers benefit from timely introduction of new technologies, say industry watchers.
A 1978 batch IAS officer, Sharma was appointed Trai chairman in August 2015 and his term was extended by two years in 2018, a day before he was to demit office. It was the first time that a Trai chairman was given a second term since the inception of the regulator in 1997.