The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Call access charge duel in court

New Delhi, Aug. 22: The Supreme Court today admitted a statutory appeal by Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) against an order of the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) holding that an access provider like Bharti Telesonic ó which offers long distance telephony services ó could not be punished by it for alleged violations on the payment of access charges to BSNL.

The access charge is a fee that operators pay each other for terminating a call from their network in another network.

A division bench of Justices S. Rajendra Babu and G. P. Mathur admitted the petition on hearing attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee who told the court that BSNLís appeal involved a question of law: whether TDSAT had the powers to punish an access provider.

The case relates to routing of default traffic following the inability of BSNL to implement the carrier access code (CAC) system. Under this system, a subscriber had to fix a three digit code to choose a particular long distance network provider (BSNL, Bharti or Reliance) to route the call.

This was scuttled by BSNL on the pretext that it did not have the necessary software and hardware in all its network and hence could not implement it.

Bharti had contended non-implementation of the CAC system would result in loss of revenue since a subscriber who fails to prefix the three-digit code would automatically have his call routed through the BSNL's network.

The case was moved before the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) by Bharti Telecom.

In its interim order, Trai directed that the traffic could be routed for three days over BSNLís network and the next three days over Bharti's network. In the case of the seventh day of the week, it could be routed over the BSNL and Bharti networks in alternate weeks.

However, Bharti which is also a carrier access provider (meaning that it routes STD calls) had rejected the Trai suggestion.

Trai then suggested that Bharti Telecom should share access money in the ratio of 50:50 with the BSNL. However, Bharti turned down this arrangement and continued to route its mobile calls over its network.

This was challenged by BSNL before the TDSAT.

In its verdict, TDSAT said that an access provider had absolute freedom to have even 100 per cent tie up with any company. But the BSNL contended that Bharti Telecom had violated Trai's interim order and that it should pay the 50 per cent access charges as per the Trai interim order. It also said TDSAT should punish Bharti Telecom for refusing to follow the Trai diktat.

TDSAT said that it had no power to punish an errant access provider. BSNL has come to the apex court against this order. The only question before the Supreme Court is to settle and lay down as law whether TDSAT could also punish an errant company under law for any violation against an order of Trai or TDSAT itself.

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