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Cell-WiLL divide widens

New Delhi, Jan. 14: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) today said it will release the final interconnectivity rules before the end of this month.

However, the announcement failed to placate cellular operators who have refused to back down on their decision to deny interconnection to limited mobility service providers until the regulator plays fair and creates a level playing field.

“We are in the last stages of finalising the interconnect offer and it will be released within this month. There will not be any delay. The allegations against Trai (by cellular operators) is a way to influence the process through the media and public at large,” Trai’s chief economist Harsha Vardhana Singh said.

The cellular operators today claimed that the Trai order directing them to interconnect with the limited mobile operators without commercial terms will affect one crore cellular consumers.

The operators alleged that the Trai directive was against its own established principles of non-discriminatory, cost-based and equitable interconnection.

“Wireless-in-local-loop operators were grossly misrepresenting facts involved in the matter, cleverly camouflaging their own commercial interests under the garb of ‘consumer interest’. WiLL operators are hiding the fact that it is their unwillingness to pay reciprocal interconnect charges, based on the well-established principles of non-discrimination, which has caused the current situation,” Rajeev Chandrashekar, chief executive officer of BPL Mobile said.

Reacting to the cellular firms’ allegations, basic operators said, “It is highly unfortunate that when the matter is sub-judice before the TDSAT, cellular operators are attempting to prejudice the court and also pressuring Trai to act contrary to its own interconnectivity regulations.”

The cellular operators today reiterated that they were willing, able and ready to provide immediate interconnection to any and all the WiLL mobile operators, based on reciprocal commercial interconnect terms.

The nine cellular mobile operators—AirTel, BPL Mobile, Escotel, Hutch, Idea, Orange, RPG Cellular Spice and Oasis—said: “The Trai order affects cellular consumers adversely since they are forced by regulation to pay two charges (airtime plus access charge of Rs 1.20) when calling a fixed line or a WiLL mobile phone.”

However, the WiLL mobile subscriber is required to pay a single charge for making an outgoing call. Unless the issue is addressed, it would cost cellular consumers more than Rs 2,000 crore in 2003.

“While the matter of interconnection—fundamental to the interests of one crore consumers—awaits final determination by the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), the cellular industry is willing to negotiate in good faith, and create an interconnect regime based on principles of fairness, equity and reciprocity,” Chandrashekar said.

Meanwhile, Bharti has refused to interconnect calls made from limited mobile phones with its cellular subscribers. “We had entered into an interconnectivity agreement with basic service providers and not with limited mobile operators. So we are within our rights not to interconnect with the limited mobile operators,” said Anil Nayar, president (mobility) of Bharti Televentures.

In a related development, Spice Telecom disconnected the interconnectivity it had granted to HFCL in Punjab.

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