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Ballooning bills for fixed-phone users

New Delhi, Jan. 25: The telecom regulator, Trai, today took a first stab at creating a level playing field among fixed-line phone providers, cellular services and limited mobility players by raising the rentals for fixed-line phones, slashing the number of free calls and reducing the metering pulse to two minutes from three minutes earlier.

At the same time, the Telecom Regulatory Authority made incoming calls free for cellular customers from all telephone networks — fixed line, cellular and limited mobility services.

The new tariffs, which kick in from April 1, will mean heftier phone bills for the 4 crore fixed-line phone users. The fixed-line phone rental in metros has been increased from Rs 250 to Rs 280 and, in non-metros, from Rs 180 to Rs 200 per month. However, senior citizens and commercial rural users will not have to pay the higher rental.

The number of free calls has also been reduced from 60 per month to 30 in metros and from 75 to 50 calls in non-metros.

A local call by a fixed-line subscriber will be billed at Re 1 up to 300 calls against 500 calls at present. From the 301st call, the subscriber will have to pay Rs 1.20 per two-minute call.

The regulator has also fixed an upper ceiling for an STD call at Rs 8.40 per minute (against Rs 9 per minute at present) for calls made from fixed-line phones. It has also allowed the operators to fix their tariff within the ceiling. Similarly, for an overseas call, the regulator has allowed the operators to set their rates. The existing rate for an overseas call is Rs 24 per minute.

“We realised that the competition in the market has brought down the overseas call rates and the STD rates. So we have allowed the operators to fix their own rates,” said Trai chairman M.S. Verma.

The revision of rates and rentals for the fixed-line phones have been undertaken to remove the subsidies that were built in to the fixed-line phone regime.

In another unsettling blow to the basic operators, fixed-line phone operators will have to pay cellular companies and limited mobility players an access charge of 30 paise per minute in metros and 40 paise per minute in non-metro circles for every call that a fixed-line phone user makes to a cellular subscriber. Until now, fixed-line phone operators paid zilch for network access.

On the other hand, the cellular operators, who used to pay Rs 1.14 per minute to land calls from their network in the basic operators’ domain, will now have to pay only 50 paise per minute in metros and 60 paise per minute in non-metros.

The move to slap an interconnection charge on the fixed-line phone operators was designed to remove the inequities in the telecom system that were “affecting the viability of the sector”, said Verma. The access charges will be built into the tariff and the customer will not have to pay any charge over and above the call rate.

The issue of interconnection — patching calls between telecom networks — has been at the centre of a bitter battle between cellular operators and limited mobility players. Earlier this month, they snapped links in Delhi and a few other states before communications minister Pramod Mahajan stepped in.

Under Trai’s new formula, the interconnection charge payable between limited mobility players and cellular operators will be the same at 30 paise per minute in metros and 40 paise in non-metros. The access charge between two fixed-line networks will be 25 paise per minute.

 

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