BSNL Set To Dig In Heels Against Access Charges

New Delhi: | Updated: Jan 23 2003, 05:30am hrs
BSNL officials have said that the company will not pass on a single penny towards access charges from the existing Rs 1.20/3 minute call. This is the companys unofficial stand in the ongoing interconnect row between cellular operators and wireless in local loop/fixed line service providers. However, the officials said that the government-run telecom giant would give in in the event of a direct order from communication ministry, adding that such a move would plunge BSNL deep into the red.

The officials, who requested anonymity, said that from the present tariff rate which ranges from 85 paise to a maximum of Rs 1.20 paise for three minutes depending upon the total number of calls made by the subscribers, BSNL would not pass a single penny as terminating charges to cellular operators. They pointed out that at present the cost of each call comes to around Rs 2 for three minutes, which was already being subsidised. Thus, if they had to pay terminating charges, that burden would have to be transferred to the subscriber.

Analysts point out that if basic players have to pay access charges to cellular networks, then they would have to enter a price differential regime, where they have to charge different rates for calls terminating in basic and cellular networks.

So, can BSNL with its legacy hardware and switchings systems for its 40 million lines support price differentials To be able to operate in a price differential regime, what needs to be in place are switches that support caller line identification (or switches which are able to recognise the origination and termination number for each call) and latest billing systems that are able to do differential billing based on where the call terminates. Industry experts point out that at least 50 per cent of BSNLs exchanges (including those in C class cities) do not suppport caller line identification, which means that the landline calls originating from these cities simply cannot have different levels of billing for calls terminating in cellular networks and calls terminating in basic networks with their present infrastructure.

Again more than 75 per cent of PCOs have manually programmed billing systems, which cant do differential billing, informs an analyst.

However BSNL appears to be shifting toward a differential billing system with officials pointing out that differential billing could be achieved by varying the pulse rates for different levels of switches.

Meanwhile, in an effort to maintain the pressure on Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the Association of Basic Telephone Operators (ABTO) has witten another letter on to the authority on Wednesday reiterating its stand against giving reciprocal access charges to cellular operators.

The access charge will increase the burden of the basic operators, who will in turn have to pass it on the consumer, making it expensive for the common man, ABTO secretary general S C Khanna said.