Access Charges Could Split WLL, Fixed Line Telephony

New Delhi, January 24: | Updated: Jan 25 2003, 05:30am hrs
In order to keep basic telephone tariffs insulated from the burden of access charges, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is expected to distinguish between basic (fixed line) and limited mobility wireless in local loop (WLL) services in its recommendations on tariffs for basic services. Trai, which says it has the interests of the common man in mind in its recommendation, will be announcing new tariffs and access charges on Saturday.

Sources familiar with the developments said while Trai will recommend nil or nominal access charges to be paid by fixed line operators to terminate calls on other networks, it will suggest equitable charges for limited mobility and cellular operators.

The move, while protecting the 4-crore fixed line subscribers from any price hike, will also bring parity in tariffs of cellular and limited mobility services.

While cellular operators said they would welcome such a move, limited mobility players expressed their unhappiness if such a recommendation was to come through. Such a direction will mean creation of a non-level playing field for basic operators. If this (equitable access charges) has to happen, then we should also get parity in other areas also like roaming facilities, airtime charges and removal of obligations, said an official with a leading private basic and limited mobility operator.

However, cellular operators do not seem to mind if WLL players are given full mobility. It is a given. We dont mind if they become the fifth cellular operator, said a chief executive of a cellular company.

However, operators refused to put their reactions on record saying that they would comment only after studying the Trai recommendations tomorrow.

Any access charges levied on basic phone calls will inflate the existing charges of Rs 1.20 for a 3-minute local call. A major change in this rate will go against public interest as basic operators will have to pass the access charges to the consumer. Moreover, tariffs in rural areas which are much lower than Rs 1.20 will have to be hiked.

The rebalancing of tariff, according to sources, will be primarily done by changing the existing pulse of 3 minutes for a call to 60 seconds or 90 seconds while the access charges will range from 30 paisa to 45 paisa per minute for both cellular and limited mobility operators.