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MTNL ultimatum sends Tatas to govt

New Delhi, Sept. 5: Alarmed at the threat by MTNL to route international long distance telephone calls through Bharti and Data Access’ networks instead of Videsh Sanchar Nigam (VSNL), Ratan Tata has sought a meeting with communications minister Pramod Mahajan.

This is the second time the two will go into a huddle to iron out the crimps in the inter-connect pact between MTNL and the international telephone carrier.

“We have not received a letter from MTNL on signing an inter-connect agreement in a week. We have been writing to each other, but there has been no suggestion from MTNL about the one-week deadline. We have heard of it from the media,” senior Tata officials said.

Without disclosing what they would do, Tata officials said a response to MTNL would be sent after the letter about the threat reaches them. “As a matter of policy, we do not discuss transactions between companies in public.”

In Kochi, Tata said he hoped an amicable settlement with MTNL on the inter-connect agreement would be achieved soon. If that does not happen, VSNL would be in crisis. We are negotiating with the government,” he said at the VSNL headquarters near Kakkanad.

“The government should realise that VSNL needs a basis for future operations. The firm must also understand that it is operating in a competitive environment. There must be give-and-take on both sides,” he added.

A VSNL official said in Delhi interconnect rates will be discussed at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. “We do not see any reason to hurry. At the same time, we will keep in touch on this issue,” the executive added.

On Wednesday, MTNL signed international long distance interconnect agreements with Data Access and Bharti. It threatened to switch to other operators if a deal was not clinched with VSNL in the space of a week.

The pact signed with the two private international long distance operators pegs the termination rate between Rs 4.40 and Rs 4.75 per minute on overseas calls. In addition, MTNL will get 50 paise per minute for transit of a call through trunk automated exchange.

“It is not technically possible to divert the whole traffic from VSNL to a new network immediately. We will do it in phases, depending on the ability of the new companies to handle the traffic,” an MTNL board member said.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has already inked pacts with Bharti Telesonic to carry calls originating from its network at a cost of Rs 3.30 per minute.

“Initially, we plan to divert 5-10 per cent of the traffic from VSNL’s network to others. If an agreement is not forged, we will divert full traffic after the technical specifications are finalised,” said sources in BSNL.

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