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Fixed-line gets limited mobility

New Delhi, Aug. 8: The Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) today delivered a body blow to cellular operators when it permitted fixed-line telephony operators to offer limited mobility services.

The 2:1 majority decision — TDSAT chairman Justice D. P. Wadhwa issued a dissent note — tried to put some salve on the cellular operators’ wounds by saying that the government and the telecom regulator should create a level playing field in the telecom sector by December 8 by compensating cellular operators in some way for the high fees they pay.

However, Justice Wadhwa’s dissent note, in which he blasted Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) for bungling its approval process for limited mobility services, will provide the ammunition to cellular operators who plan to contest the split decision before the Supreme Court.

Speaking to reporters after the judgement, the counsel for fixed-line operators Ramji Srinivasan said, “The TDSAT has, by a majority judgement of two is to one, dismissed the petition by cellular operators challenging the decision of the government to allow limited mobility services. In such a situation the majority order prevails. The basic operators are not too happy with the judgement, since in spite of a divided judgement, all the members have agreed that there has been no level playing field between cellular operators and fixed-line operators.”

“We are very happy with the judgement given by TDSAT confirming WiLL-M to be a legal telecom service. The consumer positive judgement augurs well for increased customer adoption to this service,” said S. Ramakrishnan, managing director of Tata Teleservices Ltd.

According to the latest figures released by Association of Basic Telecom Operators, there are 3.2 million limited mobile subscribers while the Cellular Operators Association of India in its latest report has said they have 16 million subscribers.

The order states: “We are conscious of the fact that allowing WiLL services with limited mobility will cause disturbance in the level playing field. Hence, we have suggested a number of steps which should be considered and taken for ensuring level playing field.”

“We expect the government to complete the exercise (to bring level playing field) within four months from the date of the order,” said the judgement.

As part of its directive to bring level playing field the order has said, “Since it (limited mobility) is a value addition to WiLL service which has a definite impact on the level playing field conditions, we feel that there is enough justification for imposing an additional entry fee over and above what they are paying as required under the basic service licence agreement.”

It has also said that the additional spectrum fee should be charged from the limited mobile operators over and above the spectrum paid by them. The exercise to fix the fee for additional spectrum and the modalities for allocating it can be undertaken by Trai.

The bench has also suggested that “some relief should be given to the cell operators in regard to the point of interconnection and also whether they should be allowed to go beyond the Level I and Level II at Trunk Automatic Exchange (TAX).” This would help the cellular operators land their calls directly at a TAX and not be routed to other exchanges that lead to drop in quality of calls.

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