The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Furrowed brows greet Mahajan

New Delhi, Jan. 2: Communications minister Pramod Mahajan today surprised everyone by turning up for the event where cellular operators announced their decision to slash cell-to-cell STD rates to Rs 2.99 a minute.

Mahajan has a knack of turning up whenever an important telecom announcement is made—be it MTNL or BSNL’s new service, or even Reliance’s big-bang launch of its IndiaMobile service. The question on everyone’s lips: Was he invited this time and by whom'

Bharti group chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal was the only one who said the minister was here to announce the tariff cut at his invitation since he always complained that Mahajan only appeared at Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd events.

However, other cellular operators demurred when the loaded question was popped to them. There had been no word about Mahajan’s presence when invitations for the event had been sent out.

“How would you feel if some one was to make a grand entry at your dinner without being invited,” said an angry senior executive of a cellular service provider.

Mittal, however, said the presence of communications minister gave him hope that he is “also on our side”. The comment is significant because Mahajan has often been accused of supporting the basic telecom service providers. “We hope he will take more interest in the views of the cellular industry. The issues are before him and we hope these will be resolved soon,” Mittal said.

The cellular operators also reiterated their demands for creation of a level playing field and the offer of access charges.

“Given identical terms, we will be in a position to match or better the tariffs offered by limited mobility operators. But in the absence of such a level playing field we will bleed despite the fact that the cellular industry has invested Rs 25,000 crore to help the growth of telecom sector,” T. V. Ramachandran, director general, COAI said.

Last month, the Supreme Court asked the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to review the cellular operators’ demand for a level playing field vis-à-vis limited mobility service providers.

On the interconnectivity issue, Ramachandran said: “We are ready for interconnectivity, but we should get reciprocal commercial terms from WiLL operators who are beneficiaries of a one-sided regulatory regime that forces cellular users to pay for interconnection, without imposing a similar access charge on limited mobility players.”

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