The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mahajan brokers truce

New Delhi, Jan. 20: Mobile and fixed-line telephone subscribers will be able to talk to each other again in large parts of the country after cellular companies agreed today to patch through calls from the fixed-line telephony operators and the limited mobility players.

The move ended a tense week-long standoff that led to selective snapping of links between the two groups of telephony subscribers in the capital and states like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Maharashtra.

The restoration of the links — called interconnection in telecom parlance — came after communications minister Pramod Mahajan intervened in the dispute between the cell operators and the limited mobility players.

The dispute had snowballed over the weekend into a major crisis when the two state-owned telephony majors — Mahanagar Telephone Ltd and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd — threw their weight behind the limited mobility players, like Tata Teleservices and Shyam Telecom, and selectively snapped links with the cellular players, like Airtel and Hutch. “I am sorry the telephone users were caught in the crossfire,” Mahajan told a telecom conference here.

“I have to promote BSNL and MTNL, I am the owner of these two companies, they have to survive in the competitive market and for that I have not given them any extra power. But, at least, I have to give them the power to resort to some tit for tat. If somebody is closing your door, they (BSNL and MTNL) can slam door as well. I can’t stop them. Otherwise, how do they survive'” Mahajan said.

Late tonight, cellular operators said they would soon announce cheaper tariffs as soon as the terms for interconnection are finalised by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

At the meet, Mahajan said the interconnection terms would be ready in the next couple of weeks. At a joint press conference later in the day, Mahajan said the ambit of limited mobility players’ operations would be restricted to the short distance charging area (usually a 50 km radius) — one of the key demands of the cellular players.

Mahajan promised to look into the cellular operators’ demand for a level playing field vis-a-vis limited mobility players who have easier terms and conditions for operations. He said he would also request Trai to frame regulations for a just interconnect regime soon.

But the war between the cell operators and the limited mobility players is far from over. The cellular companies will continue to pursue their battle for a level playing field through a case pending before the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal.

The case — lobbed to the appellate tribunal last month by the Supreme Court — came up for hearing today but has been adjourned to February 24.

However, the cellular companies have agreed to withdraw their case before the appellate tribunal against Trai, which had served showcause notices on them after they refused to comply with its directive to restore links with the basic operators.

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