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Ministerial panel to untie telecom knot

New Delhi, Sept. 10: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpyee is understood to have approved the formation of a group of ministers (GoM) to look into various issues in the telecom sector, including long standing dispute between basic and cellular operators over limited mobility telephony.

A senior communication ministry official today confirmed that a GoM has been set up to be headed by finance minister Jaswant Singh.

Other ministers in the group include communication minister Arun Shourie, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, defence minister George Fernandes, law minister Arun Jaitley and external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha.

The GoM would look into issues that have been a cause of major dispute in the telecom sector, including the issue of limited mobility.

Sources said the Prime Minister has given his approval to the constitution of GoM for which notification would be issued soon.

The terms of reference of the group were not immediately known. But sources said the group of ministers would deal with issues like spectrum management for growth of telecom sector, how to achieve targets of rural telephony as prescribed by NTP, convergence bill related issues, unified licensing, foreign direct investment in telecommunication, WiLL mobility and mergers and acquisitions within the circle.

A proposal from the department of telecommunications last week and a series of meetings by cellular operators seeking intervention of Vajpayee to resolve the disputes in telecom sector has been acknowledged by the Prime Ministerís office by setting up of the GoM.

Industry bigwigs met with deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani over the last two weeks. Bharti chairman Sunil Mittal and Tata group chairman Ratan Tata had met Advani separately recently to discuss the telecom issues.

Cellular industry has been demanding implementation of Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunalís (TDSAT) order on WiLL whereby it said that difference between the two services should be maintained in terms of their scope of mobility.

Even Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had written to the department of telecommunication to clarify/amend the basic license to restrict the roaming-like service by WiLL operators and also to limit the scope of mobility on WiLL phone within a local call area known as short distance charging area.

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