The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rural phone gets a real buzz

New Delhi, Sept. 14: Imagine unlimited incoming calls and 30 free outgoing calls for a paltry sum of Rs 12.50 per month. Unbelievable as it may sound, the offer exists and when brought to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s notice, the regulator was confused whether to take action against the company for not seeking mandatory approval. Trai decided to wait till the service is commercially launched.

The unique ‘Gram-Phone’ project using an ultra low -cost last mile solution in Kalleda, a remote village in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, may well revolutionise the reach of rural telephony in the country.

“We are aware of this project. It looks promising but there has not been any commercial use as yet and hence the question of tariff regulation does not come into effect now. However, if it has to be implemented all over the country then operators who wish to implement it will have to submit the tariff,” a senior Trai official said.

“If telecom service providers use this system to provide the village public telephones then we may explore the possibility of reducing the addition financial burden in form of duties and taxes,” sources added.

The project, launched by the Hyderabad-based Rural Telecom Foundation (RTF), a non-profit NGO, aims to bridge the digital divide using ‘party lines’ to solve the ‘last mile’ problem. The project has covered over 70 per cent of the households in the village within a short span of two months.

Called the Gram-Phone (a modified party line), this innovative method of providing low-cost telephony is being tried for the first time in the country. Out of 352 households opting for the Gram-Phone project, 250 were provided the connection through ‘party line’ telephone. The ‘party line’ concept is more than a hundred years old. It is defined in the Indian Telegraph Act as, “A telephone connection where two or more parties share in a common line to a departmental exchange.”

Party lines were extensively used in advanced countries like the US and even the International Telecom Union, a specialised wing of the United Nations, recommends the use of party lines for bridging existing digital divide.

Although Gram-Phones are cheap for the users, the revenue per access line (called Direct Exchange Line) is higher for Gram-Phones than some of the existing private lines, as individual subscribers are careful not to cross the free call limit.

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