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Managing natural monopolies: interplay of the regulator and telecom companies in India

Rima Mondal (Department of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Rohtak, India)
Nivisha Singh (Department of Strategy Management, Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, India)

Publication date: 23 June 2021


Learning outcomes

The learning outcomes of this paper are as follows: to understand the characteristics of a natural monopoly such as telecommunications sector and impact of “network externality”; to understand the role of a regulator in maintaining a balance between competition and consolidation of telecom sector; to understand the importance of first-mover advantage in telecom sector and coping mechanism of late entrants; to understand different pricing mechanisms of “natural monopolies” that can be adopted to remain profitable; to understand social cost of price floor in telecommunications sector.

Case overview/synopsis

Indian telecom sector is going through a downturn where most of the private sector telecom service providers have reported huge losses, failed to pay adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues and reported decline in average revenue per user over a period of 3–4 years. Fierce competition in the sector leads to rock bottom calling and data charges. Bharti Airtel benefitted for being the first mover in terms of market share but with entry of JIO in 2016, the service providers have entered a price war. As a result, service providers have requested Mr. R.S. Sharma, Chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to come up with a floor on calling charges and requested the government for a bailout package. Currently, Mr. R.S. Sharma, Chairman TRAI is facing a dilemma whether to regulate and come up with a floor on calling and data charges or leave the sector for market correction. Mr. Sharma can also recommend to amend the definition of AGR. Telecommunications sector exhibit the characteristics of a natural monopoly where there is a need of a regulator to introduce “competition for the sector” and “competition in the sector.” In India, TRAI is the regulatory body responsible for introducing “competition for the sector” by auction and “competition in the sector” by deregulating calling and data charges, maintaining at least three private and one public service provider, decreasing “switching cost” of the customers, etc. The case deals with the issues of why there is a need of a regulator in natural monopolies, how different chairmen of TRAI have successfully introduced competition “for” and “in” the sector, and how Indian telecom sector went through a downturn? What should TRAI do to maintain competition in the sector?

Complexity academic level

The case deals with the issue of managing telecommunications sector (a natural monopoly) by a regulator in the context of India. The regulator had successfully introduced “competition in the sector” and “competition for the sector.” This led to sharp increase in subscriber base and decrease in calling and data charges. Presently, fierce competition in the sector has left the service providers cash crunched. The case deals with the dilemma faced by the chairman of the regulatory body in India on whether the regulator should come up with a price floor or market correction. Study level: MBA, Executive MBA.

Supplementary materials

Teaching Notes are available for educators only.

Subject code

CSS 10: Public sector management.



Disclaimer. This case is written solely for educational purposes and is not intended to represent successful or unsuccessful managerial decision-making. The authors may have disguised names; financial and other recognizable information to protect confidentiality.


Mondal, R. and Singh, N. (2021), "Managing natural monopolies: interplay of the regulator and telecom companies in India", , Vol. 11 No. 2.



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