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All incoming calls free
- Deal sets May 1 date for new tariff kickoff

New Delhi, April 19: Incoming calls across all telephone networks — fixed line, cellular and limited mobility — in whatever permutation will be free from May 1.

This is the result of a landmark deal brokered today by the telecom regulator to break the impasse in the hotly-disputed issue of interconnection user charges (IUC) — the key financial element in the formula that determines how much telecom companies pay each other to patch through calls over each other’s networks.

The deal also paved the way for the introduction of new landline tariffs from May 1. Under the standard tariff package, fixed-line telephone users will have to pay higher monthly rentals from May 1. Rentals will rise from Rs 250 to Rs 280 while the number of free calls will come down from 75 to 50 in rural areas and 60 to 30 in urban areas.

When the new fixed-line tariffs were announced in January, there were howls of protest across the country over the prospect of rising telephone bills under the standard tariff package.

However, this is now of only academic interest because customers will not have to pay the higher rentals as the two state-owned fixed-line telephone companies — Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd — have proposed alternative tariff plans that do not provide for higher rentals.

The standard tariff package serves only as a benchmark for the industry and customers usually opt for the alternative tariff plans — a trend that has been witnessed in the cellular industry.

The two state-owned telephony majors have already notified their alternative tariff packages. Customers will get to exercise their option to migrate to their preferred tariff plan when they get their bills for May.

Today’s breakthrough in the IUC dispute was possible after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) persuaded the telecom operators to agree to start the billing of the interconnection charges within 45 days of the start of the new tariff regime on May 1.

This had been a major bone of contention between the operators with BSNL, the country’s largest telephone company, insisting that the time period should be 90 days while the private operators wanted it to be completed within 30 days.

“We said 45 days and the committee consisting of the Association of Basic Telecom Operators, the Cellular Operators Association of India and BSNL agreed. So, the IUC will come into effect from May 1,” said D.P S. Seth, Trai’s member (technical). S.C. Khanna, secretary general of ABTO, and the spokesperson of the Cellular Operators Association of India (Coai) concurred.

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