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Videsh Sanchar left to fight a lone battle

New Delhi, Dec. 1: The department of telecommunications (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) have refused to intervene in the spat between a gaggle of US telecom companies and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL).

The spat has arisen because of VSNL’s refusal to grant necessary bandwidth and access to enable the US call carriers to establish connectivity with the Indian entity’s various landing stations.

The US carriers of international bandwidth and private telecom companies in India like Reliance Infocomm have accused VSNL, the major operator, of supplying bandwidth from India at higher cost, not allowing the foreign companies to set up their necessary equipment and anti-competitive practices.

Last week, CompTel-Ascent, an alliance of various US telecom companies, had written to the Indian authorities to protest against VSNL’s anti-competition posturing which, they claimed, was tantamount to flouting commitments that India had made under global instruments it had signed. Both DoT and Trai have declined to issue a directive to VSNL to grant the necessary bandwidth.

DoT and Trai officials feel that it is not within their jurisdiction to intervene to settle a dispute in a corporate agreement that the parties have entered into.

Bandwidth is the capacity in a pipe to transmit data from one end to another through a fibre-optic cable laid over the land and under the sea.

A senior Trai member said that no directive has been issued to VSNL or any other party concerned on the issue of bandwidth. He also said that the authority cannot and will not intervene unless it is an issue that is under its mandate.

“The issue is more related to licensing and we have nothing to do in it. We have discussed matters relating to bandwidth and pricing with the stakeholders but have not discussed the issue of any operator failing to release the necessary bandwidth and access to landing station,” said the Trai member.

DoT officials were equally reluctant to take up the issue. They pointed out that the letter has not been written to them pointing violation of licence conditions by an operator. “We are not clear about the possible intervention. Since the US firms have also lodged a complaint through the ministry of external affairs and referred to violations of the world trade agreement, it will involve many ministries,” said a senior member of the Telecom Commission.

VSNL, the Tata-owned entity, has rejected the charges and has called a meeting of its board on Tuesday to decide how they should present their side of the case before the concerned ministries.

“We are disappointed with the developments since we have been offering tariffs similar to those offered worldwide by other firms. Moreover, we have not hoarded any bandwidth as has been indicated in the letter written by the US telecom association to Lalit Mansingh, the Indian high commissioner in the US, and . P. Singh, deputy director general, investment and policy cell in DoT,” said a Tata official.

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