The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Legal row over limited mobility rages on

New Delhi, Oct. 30: The legal wrangle over the use of limited mobility by fixed-line operators continues with the Supreme Court adjourning hearing for the third time today. The next hearing has been scheduled for end-November.

The limited mobility issue has now been hotly debated over the past two years. The court will hear counsel for the cellular industry, fixed line operators and the government for three days, on November 20, 21 and 26.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice-designate G.B Patnaik, H. K Sema and S. B Sinha, observed that the case needs day-to-day-hearing. The court turned down the request of P. Chidambaram, the counsel for cellular operators, for interim relief and observed that “they have the powers to moderate the relief.” Legal eagles believe that this is an important observation by the judges since it opens up an opportunity for both parties to represent their views afresh. It will also ensure that they do not have to stick to the order passed by Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

Earlier, the court indicated it will hold two days of continuous hearings on October 30 and 31, but decided to adjourn the case to allow all parties to be heard simultaneously.

The cellular operators were represented by a battery of lawyers led by P. Chidambaram, Ram Jethmalani, C. S Vaidyanathan and Manjul Vajpayee. The government was represented by additional solicitor general Soli Sorabjee and fixed-line operators by Abhishek Singhvi and Ramjee Srinivasan. Counsel for a public interest litigation filed for the introduction of WiLL (wireless in local loop) was represented by Ashok Desai.

In March this year, TDSAT had dismissed the petition filed by cellular operators who were objecting to the idea of granting fixed-line service providers a facility that had the potential of knocking them out of business. The cellular operators had moved Supreme Court, challenging the judgement passed by TDSAT in March.

Currently, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd and a few fixed-line private operators are offering limited mobility using an old system that ensures mobility within a radius 25 kilometres.

In Europe and a few south-east Asian countries like South Korea, equipment have been installed by the telecom companies to allow a subscriber to make calls up to 250 kilometres, using a technology called code division multiple access (CDMA) using wireless in local loop system.

There is a huge market up for grabs in India for companies like US-based Qualcomm, which is a major supplier of wireless in local-loop equipment based on CDMA.

Along with major fixed-line operators like the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam, private players like Reliance Telecom, Bharti, Telenet, HFCL, Tata Teleservices, Hughes Telecom, and Shyam Telecom use the technology.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) contends that if WiLL mobility for fixed-line operators is allowed, it will deliver a disastrous blow to investor confidence in the telecom sector and will impact investments of over Rs 20,000 crore that have been made in the cellular industry.

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