The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Telecom rivals hang up on each other

New Delhi, March 13: The peace talks between the warring telecom operators have broken down.

The rival sides have been unable to reach a consensus on the issue of limited mobility services that are being offered by basic telephony operators.

The conclave was formed at the initiative of communications minister Arun Shourie to break the deadlock on the vexed issue, which will now be lobbed back to the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal that has been hearing the case.

Shourie had tried to broker peace between the warring telecom operators by forming a group comprising government representatives and industry leaders, including Mukesh Ambani of Reliance and Sunil Mittal of the Bharti group.

The two sides had several rounds of talks and it was hoped they would reach some agreement on the issue of creating a level playing field between cellular operators and basic service providers who offer limited mobility services.

Initially, a March 1 deadline was set for a consensus that was later extended. The appellate tribunal had also deferred hearing in the case, awaiting the outcome of the peace initiative.

“There is no agreement or understanding on WiLL (wireless in local loop, the technology that basic operators are using to provide limited mobility services),” telecom secretary Vinod Vaish said.

Mittal and Ambani were enthusiastic supporters of the peace initiative initially, but their ardour cooled when it became evident that the two sides would be unable to establish a common ground for the talks.

Neither Ambani nor Mittal was present at the meeting today. They were represented by their company officials.

The cellular operators had said government permission to allow WiLL services was mala fide as they were paying licence fees and sharing revenue with the government while the basic service providers were not, thus creating unfair competition.

Vaish said there would be no more meetings of the group on the WiLL issue.

The real bone of contention was how “limited” the WiLL service would be. Initially, it was felt that the service would be restricted to around 50-km radius within what is known in telecom parlance as the short distance charging area.

However, both Tata Teleservices and Reliance are offering or intend to offer (Reliance has yet to launch its service) full roaming facility under an ingenious plan that allows a consumer to move out of his circle and apply for another number in the new circle, enabling the service provider to patch through calls to him even when he is outside his original telecom circle.

“Unfortunately, the differences could not be bridged,” Vaish said. The two sides, he said, had tried to accommodate each other on the issue, but there was no agreement on several crucial points.

Asked whether the group would be dissolved after the talks breakdown, Vaish said: “The industry feels there are some other issues which should be discussed such as spectrum and gross revenue calculation. We will take the minister's direction on whether it should be pursued by the same group or not.”

Those who attended today’s meeting included BSNL chairman-cum-managing director Prithipal Singh, Hutch chief executive officer Asim Ghosh, Tata Teleservices managing director S. Ramakrishnan and Mahendra Nahata of Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd.

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