The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Long-distance rates cut

New Delhi, March 3: The state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd today halved its domestic long-distance call charges and decided to offer a near flat rate for peak and off-peak periods.

Under the new tariff regime, a one-minute call to a destination more than 500 km away will cost Rs 4.80 against the Rs 9 earlier during the peak period of 9 am to 8 pm. The rate during the off-peak period from 8 pm to 9 am remains unchanged at Rs 4.50.

“We have reduced the charges by around 47 per cent for calls of more than 500 km radius,” said Prithipal Singh, chairman and managing director of the New Delhi-based telecom operator. “These tariff charges have been approved by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India,” he added.

Trai sets tariffs for different telecom services and also adjudicates in disputes between various operators providing the same or competing services.

The state-owned long-distance telephony operator is finally joining the long-distance telephony rate war that began last December when Reliance Infocomm announced that it would offer an STD rate of 40 paise per minute for calls made within its network. Reliance has yet to launch its limited mobility services.

In January, cellular operators battling limited-mobility service providers like Reliance and Tata Teleservices hit back by setting a flat rate of Rs 2.99 a minute for domestic long-distance calls terminating in cellular networks.

However, the call rate for heavy-duty cellphone users can be as low as 50 paise per minute depending on the rate plan they subscribe to.

BSNL was unwittingly drawn into a battle between cellular and limited-mobility operators in January when the two groups of telecom operators snapped links with each other in Delhi and a few other states on the issue of interconnect charges.

Interconnection, which has emerged as a contentious issue because of the anomalous fee structure, enables a telecom network to patch through a call from its network to another.

Truce was called after the intervention of then communications minister Pramod Mahajan, but clearly the rate wars will now only intensify.

BSNL currently provides cellular, fixed-line and limited-mobility or wireless in local loop (WiLL) services across the country except in New Delhi and Mumbai, where the services are provided by Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd, another state-run firm.

BSNL began cellular operations in October and competes with private players such as Bharti Tele-Ventures Ltd (16 per cent owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd), Hutchison (a wholly-owned unit of the Hutchison Whampoa conglomerate) and Idea Cellular Ltd. The firm has more than 3.6 crore fixed-line customers and 4.5 lakh WiLL customers.

BSNL has set a target of providing 56 lakh telephone lines by 2004. This includes about 23.5 lakh basic fixed-line telephones, 24 lakh cellular mobile phones and about 8 lakh WiLL phones.

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