Long Distance Carrier Choice A Long Way Off

New Delhi: | Updated: Jul 30 2002, 05:30am hrs
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) may have set aggressive deadlines for the telephony access providers to offer subscribers the option to choose their long distance carrier national and international but the main access providers are not in a position to meet them.

The largest access provider Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) says that it had informed the Trai about the limitations of its network well in advance. We cannot meet the deadlines, especially for the pre-selection. However, we may be able to offer call-by-call selection within the time frame set by the Trai, sources at BSNL said.

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), the second largest access provider, which offers services in the cities of Delhi and Mumbai, is also not in a position to stick to the Trai deadlines for carrier selection. Though we will try to meet the dates set by the Trai, prima facie, it seems that it would not be possible to meet the deadlines since some switches would need to be replaced, the chairman and managing director of the company, Narinder Sharma, told eFE.

For these government-owned companies, there is another time-guzzling factor the public sector buying procedure which tends to be rather long-winded. Either the procurement procedure needs to change, or the deadline needs to be stretched, sources said.

Even the cellular operators felt that the time limits prescribed by the Trai may be difficult to meet. The timelines are rather tight. We had sought more time. We are likely to approach the Trai for additional time, the director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), TV Ramachandran, told eFE.

As per the Trais July 24 directive, the long distance carrier selection should be in place for almost all subscribers by December 2003 with the first phases kicking off in as little as three months.

Selection of the carrier by the subscriber can be done on a call-by-call basis by dialing a four-digit carrier access code (CAC) or by pre-selection, obviating the need to dial CAC each time a long distance call is made.

There are different time-lines for the two kinds of access providers cellular and basic. In the case of national long distance calls, both the cellular and basic telephony access providers have to provide call-by-call carrier selection within 3 months. Cellular telephony operators have to offer carrier pre-selection in 6 months while basic telephony operators have been granted 9 months to do it.

Both the access providers also have to offer the option of routing long distance traffic to a recorded announcement seeking carrier selection, if the subscriber fails to opt for carrier pre-selection or call-by-call routing, within 6-9 months.

For international calls, the cellular service providers have to provide call-by-call as well as carrier pre-selection facility within 6 months while basic telephony operators have been given an 18 month time-limit. The same time-lines are applicable for the routing to a recorded announcement.

Trai officials said that the time-limits were realistic and based on detailed discussions with the operators and experts. However, based on merit, the TRAI would be open to certain relaxations which would be the exception rather than the rule.