The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Noisy start to new telecom regime

New Delhi, May 2: Don’t blow your top if your PCO owner has stopped you from calling a mobile number.

Don’t even rattle the coin-operated phone booth in frustration if you haven't been able to get through to a cellphone or a limited mobile phone user.

Blame it all on the interconnection user charge (IUC) regime that was launched with a lot of fanfare on May 1 — and the telecom operators who have failed to communicate the nitty-gritty of the new tariff system to the guys down the line.

Just one day after the new IUC regime was kicked in, there’s massive confusion over the dramatic change in call rates and pulse duration that have been brought about by the IUC regime.

The PCO owners are playing truant because they haven’t been told how to charge the calls to cellphones. All this stems from the confusion over the change in the pulse rate — the permissible talk time for one metered call, which is calculated in seconds.

Under the old tariff system, the pulse rate for calls to both fixed line and cellular phones was the same at 180 seconds. Under the new regime, the pulse rate for calls to fixed line phones hasn’t changed; but in the case of cellphone calls, the pulse rate has been slashed to 60 seconds.

The fixed-line service providers who have set up PCOs — Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, Tata Teleservices, Shyam Telecom, Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd and, Reliance Infocomm — have not bothered to inform their PCO franchisees about the new rates that came into force from May 1. There are 15 lakh PCOs in India.

In the case of coin-operated booths, the problem is a little different. These booths are directly managed by the fixed-line service providers like BSNL and MTNL. The buzz is that the calls to mobile phones have been barred “under orders from the top” because they don’t have a system in place to charge calls to fixed line phones and cellular phones differently because of the varying pulse rates.

The software in the coin-operated booth is programmed to calculate one call at 180 seconds irrespective of whether the call is made to a mobile phone, limited mobile phone or a fixed line phone. Now, both MTNL and BSNL are not ready to take action.

There are five lakh coin operated machines in India and a change of software would cost about Rs 500 per booth.

“It is the fault of the operators who have not informed us about the change in tariff. There has been no intimation. Even the advertisements in newspapers put out by them do not explain how we should charge or how we will be charged for the calls. The problem is being faced by all PCO owners in Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and all cities and towns,” says Surjit Singh Khunger, chairman of the All India Sanchar Sewa PCO Society and president of Federation of All India PCO Owners' Association.

The biggest problem for PCO owners is having to explain to customers that calls to cellphones will now double from Rs 2 to almost Rs 4 per call.

“We understand the problems faced by the consumers, but there is no clarity. How do we explain this to a person who is making a call to mobile phone that now one call will be of 60 seconds and not 180 seconds. The customers are angry, assuming that we are raking in money. The problem is all over the country and our members have taken up the issue with the service providers,” said Khunger.

Sources at Calcutta Telephones today confirmed that they have received instructions to block outgoing calls to cellphones from PCO booths. “The decision has been taken to avoid any confrontation between users and booth owners regarding payment for calls made to mobile phones,” sources said. “This is however a temporary blockade and is applicable only to attendant PCOs or local call booths.”

The confusion has been compounded by BSNL's decision to set a '95' prefix before making a local call anywhere within a state. ”Earlier a call made beyond 200 kilometres was calculated as an STD call. Now, it has been made a local call if the number 95 is prefixed. But we have not been informed how the charges will be calculated or how the pulse should be measured,” says Khunger.

“We are aware of the problem and action will be taken but it will take some time. It is major work. The PCO owners have a point and we hope to sort this out in the next few days,” said a senior BSNL official.

This seems to be just the beginning of the confusion that will erupt over the next few days with the telecom regulator having already announced its decision not to intervene in tariff issues for one month.

A senior member of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) tried to find a parallel in Hindu mythology. “The demons and the gods had churned the sea — samunder manthan — to derive nectar; drinking it would give them immortality. But when the sea is churned, poison will come out first and some one has to drink it. The amrit will follow,” he said.

In mythology, Shiva the destroyer drank the poison. Are telephone users now being asked to do the same'

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