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Seven wise men to untie telecom knot

New Delhi, Feb. 14: A seven-member working group, comprising Reliance’s Mukesh Ambani, Bharti’s Sunil Mittal and other cellular and limited mobile service providers and government representatives, has been set up to sort out contentious issues relating to limited mobile or wireless in local loop services. This was decided at a day-long meeting between major telecom operators and communications minister Arun Shourie.

But the war of words between the two sides continued unabated with the leader of the WiLL operators Mukesh Ambani and Bharti chief Sunil Mittal trading charges over the roaming facility offered by Reliance.

The committee has been mandated to look into three issues —limited mobility as part of the licence conditions of basic telecom operators (limitedness of the service), how to bring about a voluntary level playing field and cooperation and safeguards for the future of all players. This group will start functioning from Monday and will present a report by March 1 to Shourie.

Besides Mittal and Ambani, the working group will consist of Rajeev Chandrashekhar (BPL Mobile) and S. Ramakrishnan (Tata Teleservices) representing the two sides — cellular firms and WiLL operators. Bharat Sanchar Nigam’s Prithipal Singh, Reliance’s Prakash Bajpai and communications ministry’s Vinod Vaish will also be part of the group.

However, within minutes of the announcement, the cellular and limited mobile operators were at loggerheads on the issue of permitting roaming facility by WiLL operators. Mukesh Ambani continued to reiterate that they will offer multiple registration to allow subscribers to make WiLL calls to 673 cities. But according to Sunil Mittal, roaming cannot be offered by limited mobile operators because of restrictions imposed by the licence agreements they were given.

Ambani, however, said the company would withdraw the word ‘roaming’ currently being used in its advertisements but reiterated that multiple registration offered by the company does not tantamount to roaming.

Telecom company sources said: “We do not expect a solution soon. It is too vexatious an issue. The feel-good factor was present at the meeting but when you are out in the market, business considerations will take priority. There is a possibility that operators might jointly ask for an adjournment on the limited mobility issue scheduled to be heard by TDSAT on Monday.”

Arun Shourie, however, was optimistic that a solution could be found to the issues plaguing the sector. “The group, I am confident, will be able to take a decision on how to approach the issues and if they feel that litigation is the only way then that alternative is always available.”

“These people are capable of taking decisions in hours on issues involving crores of rupees and they, I think, will be able to sort out the issue in the interest of the telecom sector. This sector in the last few months had been plagued by differences that has led to consumers doubting the serviceability of the sector,” said Shourie.

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