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Trai weighs open-door policy for cellular firms

New Delhi, Dec. 19: The government has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to examine the proposal for an open sesame policy in the cellular industry by removing the restrictions on the number of players who can offer mobile phone services within a particular telecom circle.

At present, the policy caps the number of cellular players in a circle at four.

Trai has also been asked to determine the amount that the new players should pay by way of licence fees.

Chapter III of the Trai Act stipulates that the regulator’s function is to make recommendations, either suo motu or at the request from the licensor (that is, the government) on matters pertaining to the need and timing for the introduction of a new service provider and terms and conditions of licence to a service provider.

Earlier this year, communications minister Pramod Mahajan had hinted that the government was examining the feasibility of permitting unlimited entry into the area of cellular services .

While refusing to speculate about when the government expects to receive Trai’s recommendations, Mahajan said, “We have asked them (Trai) and we will explore the availability of spectrum depending on Trai’s recommendations.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the launch of Tata’s fixed line and limited mobility service in Delhi, an angry Mahajan blasted the cellular operators for interpreting the Supreme Court’s order on limited mobility as a vindication of their stand. “WiLL limited mobility existed, it exists and will continue to exist in future,” Mahajan said.

“The cellular operators have, on the one hand, been demanding concessions from the government and, on the other, have been filing litigations against the government’s policies that aim to enhance the teledensity and to offer affordable communications systems to all. The Supreme Court itself had pointed out that it was not examining the issue of government’s policy,” said Mahajan.

He also pointed out that the Rs-8,000 crore loss that the cellular operators claim to have suffered, have been offset when they were allowed to migrate to a revenue sharing regime under the National Telecom Policy 1999.

“The cellular operators had approached all the independent legal bodes available to them — Trai, TDSAT and Supreme Court — and all three have held that limited mobility can be continued. The Supreme Court had, according to my understanding, asked the TDSAT to examine the issue of a level playing field.”

The communications minister also pulled up the cellular operators for refusing to grant an interconnect facility to the private basic operators. “No one can refuse interconnectivity. It is their right,” said Mahajan, reminding the cellular operators of the same statement that was made by Sunil Bharti Mittal, Bharti Group chairman, while demanding interconnect as the carrier for STD and ISD calls.

The cellular operators and the basic service providers have been at loggerheads on the issue of limited mobility for more than two years.

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