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Claws out in Reliance call-diverting wrangle

New Delhi, Feb. 8: Reliance Infocomm and the department of telecommunications (DoT) are heading for a showdown over charges that the Ambani-owned service provider has been violating licence conditions while routing overseas calls into the country.

The charges have been made in a case that is now before the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

The spat arises from a controversial system called home country direct (HCD) service which enables the company to route calls at mutually agreed rates with the principal abroad.

The telecom department has argued that the HCD service amounts to a code violation and that Reliance has been passing off a call from abroad as one that has originated within India just to avoid having to pay a huge access deficit charge (ADC).

The ADC is a fee that all private operators pay for overseas and STD calls within the country. The charge goes into a corpus from which the funds are paid out to landline service providers like Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) to help mitigate the losses they incur on providing uneconomical telephony services in rural and inaccessible areas.

The spat has already prompted DoT to slap a Rs 150-crore penalty on Reliance which stands accused of masking the origin of overseas calls and passing them off as local ones. DoT has argued that this is a violation of licence conditions and the company must be penalised.

The department has alleged that HCD is not a valid service and that the company had tampered with the caller line identification (CLI).

In its submission, DoT has pointed out that Reliance Infocomm had routed the overseas calls through Reliance Communications Inc, its subsidiary in the US.

Reliance Infocomm has argued that the home country direct service does not violate the licence conditions. Moreover, it is a service that is recognised by the International Telecom Union (ITU) of which all countries are members.

It also pointed out that the routing of calls at mutually agreed rates between the two Reliance-owned companies did not amount to a violation of the licence conditions either.

Harish Salve, counsel for Reliance Infocomm, today argued at TDSAT that the charges of tampering caller line identification (CLI) was unfounded since 'more than 40 per cent of the ISD calls do not have proper CLI and in such calls there is a directive from the government to operators to put their own switch numbers to identify the source.'

Salve also said the CLI was a weak measure of security concern since the calling number does not show up on mobile screens for a large number of overseas calls. Thus, the government's allegation that this could pose a security threat was just a 'bogey'.

Salve added that even government-owned public sector company Mahanagar Telephone Nigam, which does not own international long distance licence, uses the HCD service to offer operator-assisted international calls. Earlier, the government, in its counter affidavit, said Reliance had violated the licence norms by rerouting ISD calls as local calls and avoided payment of ADC to BSNL.

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