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Fresh Trai blow for cell firms
Thomas K Thomas in New Delhi | November 11, 2003 08:50 IST
In another jolt to the cellular players, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has proposed to bar operators in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal from offering mobile services in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, respectively, under the unified telecom licence.
Basic telecom operators in these circles can, however, offer cellular services in the metros by paying an entry fee.
As per the Trai recommendations on unified access accepted by the Union Cabinet, cellular operators in these circles will not be able to offer services in the three metros even after paying an entry fee.
For instance, Aircel, which holds the cellular licence for the Tamil Nadu circle, cannot offer services in Chennai after unification.
However, Reliance Infocomm, which has a basic licence for Tamil Nadu, will be able to offer services in Chennai.
The only exception is Delhi where both cellular and basic operators are treated at par.
The discrepancy arises from the way cellular and basic licences have been issued.
While the metros had been kept out of the cellular licences, they were included in the ones for basic operators.
So, when a basic operator migrates to the new regime, metros automatically come in their area of operation.
On the other hand, a cellular operator in Maharashtra will not get Mumbai as part of his unified licence.
According to senior Trai officials, the recommendations say the unified regime will follow the licence conditions of the existing cellular operators.
"Trai has not envisaged any diversion from the existing cellular licence norms in the new unified access regime," an official said.
He, however, added that the final decision on the matter rested with the department of telecommunications, which was expected to announce guidelines for the new regime in the next few days.
The Cellular Operators Association of India said it was expecting the issue to be tackled by the department of telecommunications.
"Notwithstanding the Trai stance, we are looking forward to the guidelines being formulated by the government," a cellular operator said.
The cellular operators had sought permission to offer mobile services in the more lucrative metro cities after switching to a single licence.
If this is allowed, BPL and Aircel, which offer mobile services in Tamil Nadu, could expand operations to Chennai.
Similarly, Mumbai operator Hutchison could offer mobile services in the rest of Maharashtra. Idea Cellular, which offers services in Maharashtra, could move into Mumbai to join BPL, Bharti, Hutchison, MTNL, Reliance and the Tatas.
Trai officials said such a regime would become part of the larger plan to merge all telecom services within a single licence.
The telecom regulator is expected to come out with a consultation paper on the issue shortly.
What this means