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WiLL warriors pull connection strings

New Delhi, Jan. 5: The Tatas and Reliance have sought government intervention in securing inter-connectivity between their limited mobility customers and cellular firms.

The request has been made through the Association of Basic Telecom Operators (ABTO), the apex body of fixed-line phone companies that also represents the interests of wireless-in-local-loop (WiLL) service providers.

Operators need to connect to each other to send or receive calls from subscribers. Known as an inter-connectivity agreement in telecom parlance, the arrangement allows subscribers to make calls to other networks. Operators who are not linked stand to lose revenues that would have been generated from such calls.

In a letter to communications minister Pramod Mahajan, ABTO urged him to direct cellular operators to provide the inter-connectivity to WiLL firms. “We are left with no choice but to seek your intervention in the matter to ensure that the development of basic telecom facilities in the country is not held ransom to the unreasonable demands and anti-competitive behaviour of the cellular mobile service providers,” the letter states.

“We, therefore, seek your kind help so that cellular operators comply with inter-connectivity, in line with the terms of their licence.” The letter claims basic service providers have held discussions with cellular operators for the last six to eight months but failed to strike a deal.

Moreover, a few limited mobility service providers had lodged complaints with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), but to no avail. “There seems to be no early solution in sight. Every day of delay means denial of service to consumers and this is contrary to the principles of the National Telecom Policy 1999,” ABTO secretary general S. C. Khanna said.

The licence conditions of cellular operators makes it mandatory for them to provide interconnectivity to all eligible telecom service providers as well as national long distance (STD) service providers, whereby subscribers shall have a free choice to make inter-circle international long distance calls through the NLD service provider.

“By refusing access to a bottleneck facility within their control, cellular operators are illegally blocking customers of wireless in local loop limited mobility from benefiting fully from the telecom revolution sweeping across the country,” Khanna said.

The ABTO’s letter to Mahajan added that the stand taken by the cellular service providers was arbitrary, illegal and anti-competitive and would adversely affect the growth and roll out of services, besides violating the basic rights of consumers.

“While denying interconnectivity to new operators, cellular service providers are now making unsustainable financial demands on even those of our members who had signed interconnectivity agreements earlier. This is reflective of a dominant operator who is misusing its significant market presence,” Khanna alleged.

Reacting to the letter, the Cellular Operators Association of India—the apex body of cellular operators—said they would discuss the issue with their members. While communications ministry officials claimed the COAI has been approached, the association said it would reply to the ministry’s queries next week.

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