Telecom tuning

Updated: Mar 22 2005, 05:30am hrs
The new consultation paper of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) reviewing the access deficit charge (ADC) and interconnection usage fees, barely two months after its latest orders on the subject, shows a welcome realisation of the need to keep pace with developments in the sector. And of the inevitable complications of any state-mandated subsidy regime in a fast-moving sector. For Trai to feel the need to underline, as it has at the outset of this paper, that the ADC has to be a depleting regime, meant to smoothen a transition to a regime where there will be only a Universal Service Obligation (USO) fund for subsidising rural telephony, is a measure of the substantial change in mindsets wrought by competition and technological advance.

What is certain is that any change promises to be as complicated as the present regime, given the various permutational options laid out for suggested feedback. Should ADC be admissible to non-BSNL operators, if so, on what basis, whether BSNLs share should be for their rural lines only, whether ADC should be admissible for wireless access, the specific invitation to reopen the issue of a revenue-based ADC and if this should vary by category of class and so forth. Reasonable people could argue endlessly on the pros and cons, so the sooner we move out of the ADC era, the better. The positive development is that BSNL and other integrated operators have given Trai their accounting separation reports and traffic minutes data, finally providing an agreed basis for perusing recommendations. Carriage charges for long-distance calls were already prescribed in earlier orders, but the picture they were based on was, clearly, incomplete. Incidentally, it notes that many of the service providers are still not providing minutes for intra-circle traffic and internal ADC collections.

An undercurrent in the entire paper is of the difficulty in keeping licensing rules relevant in the face of developing technology and innovation by firms. The extent of change is apparent when seen through the benchmarks of yesteryear: Trai estimates that the tele-density of 15, the target for mid-2010, set in the NTP of 1999, is likely to be achieved by the end of next year. Given this, Trais proactiveness in inviting a review of orders passed only a few weeks before does deserve a pat on the back.