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Signal to fill fourth cell slot

New Delhi, Feb. 10: Union communications minister Arun Shourie has given the green signal for bringing a cellular operator into Jammu and Kashmir and for filling the fourth slot in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and the Northeast circles, which did not have any takers during the second round of bidding in 2001.

The ministry is likely to announce the details of the bids on February 24.

“We felt that it (bringing in the fourth cell operator and an operator in Jammu and Kashmir) cannot be delayed as the customer will benefit if there are more operators and competition intensifies,” said a communications ministry official.

Last year, the Cabinet decided to allow cellular service in the state by April, after the government closed down STD/ISD and Internet booths to tackle terrorism. But in August, it allowed the booths to function, amid pressure from the state government.

Srinagar and Jammu will be the first to get cellular services, once the mobile operator — Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) — is allowed in the state. The facility will then be extended to other areas.

BSNL will be the only operator as the telecom circle was not put up for bidding in the first three rounds and was offered in the fourth round provided security clearance was obtained from the defence ministry.

The communications ministry has also planned to hold another round of bidding in August to fill the slot of one more cellular mobile operator in Bengal and also in Orissa and Bihar. Bengal is now serviced by BSNL and Reliance Infocomm. With bids invited for the fourth slot, there will still be one vacant slot as a circle can have four operators.

Village network bids

The government has invited private telecom service providers — both basic and cellular — to bid for contracts to operate and maintain existing village public telephone (VPT) networks.

The VPTs to be covered under this programme include those present in telecom circles like West Bengal (including Calcutta), Andaman & Nicobar, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar (including Jharkhand), Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh (including Chattisgarh), Maharashtra (including Mumbai and Goa), North East, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu (including Chennai), Uttar Pradesh (West - entire area covered by western Uttar Pradesh including Uttaranchal) and Uttar Pradesh (East).

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