Wednesday, January 15, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Spice, Airtel bar calls to Connect
A. S. Prashar
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 14
The ongoing war between the cellphone operators on one hand and the Telephone Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and WiLL-based mobile services on other has claimed its first victim in Punjab.

Both Spice Telecom and Airtel, leading cellphone companies of the state, have barred calls to the only WiLL-based operator in the state, Connect, with immediate effect. Spice which is the oldest cellphone company of Punjab, has a subscriber base of nearly 4.50 lakh in the state while Airtel claims a subscriber base of 2.40 lakh. Connect has about 1.25 lakh subscribers in Punjab.

Mr Ashok Goyal, Executive Director of Spice Telecom, told TNS that the cellphone operators had been forced to take this step in view of the widely perceived feeling that TRAI was favouring some operators in promoting the WiLL-based mobile services. The issue had been simmering for some time, but it came to a boil when TRAI recently directed the cellphone operators to provide connectivity to basic telecom operators for WiLL calls.

“We have been urging TRAI to be fair to all and provide a level playing field to all operators. But this was not happening,” he complained. The cellphone subscribers were forced by TRAI to pay two charges — airtime, plus an access charge of Rs 1.20 when calling a fixed line of WiLL phone — whereas the WiLL subscribers need to pay only a single charge for any call they make. This was because the discriminatory interconnect regulation by TRAI waives the Rs 1.20 access charge for WiLL-based service providers.

Mr Goyal said the direction of TRAI to cellphone operators to provide connectivity to WiLL-based services had proved to the be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back which had forced the cellphone operators to take a firm stand.

Mr Vinod Sahni, Chief Executive Officer (North), Airtel, confirmed that all calls from Airtel to Connect had been blocked with effect from today in pursuance of the decision in this regard by the Cellphone Operators Association of India. “We have been pleading with TRAI for a long time to resolve the issue, but have been getting no response from them. This left us with no alternative,” he said.

Mr Jayant Keswani, General Manager, (Marketing and PR), Connect, described as “unfortunate” the action by Spice and Airtel in blocking calls to its subscribers.

“They claim to be protecting consumers’ interests, but the step they have taken is not only anti-consumer but also anti-competition. We have moved TRAI in this matter and we hope that there will be decision within a day or so,” he said.

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