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Bharti irked by delay in interconnection

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CHENNAI. April 3

THE Bharti group, which got its national long-distance operator (NLDO) licence in November last, is sore that the interconnection agreements with other operators like the state-owned BSNL and MTNL are still pending. ``We are at the end of our patience,'' the group Chairman and Managing Director, Mr Sunil Bharti Mittal, told a press conference here on Wednesday.

Without the interconnection facility, calls originating on Bharti's network (basic services or cellular services) cannot be routed and completed on either BSNL's or MTNL's network. The Bharti group plans to petition TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) once again, take it up with the Government or even go to the TDSAT (Telecom Disputes Settlement Authority) or even seek legal redress, group officials told reporters.

While BSNL has given local interconnection facility (for instance, in Chennai where Bharti launched its basic services today, calls made on Bharti's lines can be connected to BSNL's numbers), this facility has not been extended to long distance calls. One of the issues holding this up is the revenue sharing formula yet to be agreed upon.

Earlier, a 60:40 formula was mooted in favour of BSNL, which BSNL wanted changed to 70:30. This was not agreeable, Mr Rajan Bharti Mittal, Joint Managing Director, told journalists.

However, Bharti wants interconnection facility to be given first, peding the reee sharing formula. The formula approved by TRAI could be implemented retrospectively, he said. Another reason being cited by BSNL for denying interconnection was the non-allotment of carrier access code.

Mr Mittal told the press conference that STD/ISD rates were going to drop dramatically. ``I am going to force STD/ISD rates to go down,'' he said. Bharti was all set to launch its ILD service. Tamil Nadu had become the main point for the group's ILD services as one of the two switches was located in the State. The group was awaiting approval of the tariff and security clearance for the gateway to launch its services.

Mr Mittal also made out a strong case for an upward revision of the local call rates, while at the same time pointing out that ISD/STD rates needed to be cut further. At present, Bharti's basic services would have the same tariff structure as that of BSNL. However, Mr Mittal felt that Rs 1.20 for three minutes for a local call was unviable. It cost at least Rs 30,000 to provide a connection.

The options were that either the rental charges were hiked and the call rates remained the same, or both rental charges and call rates were increased. Terming it tariff rebalancing, Mr Mittal said the charges had to be cost-based and not cross-subsidised (long distance calls subsidising local calls). He said that the Bharti group mobile services were operational in seven circles and would be rolled out in another eight circles in the next four to eight weeks. The group had an optical cable fibre network of 12,000 km right now, which would go up to 26,000 km of fibre capacity by March 2003.

Asked about the group's wireless in local loop (WiLL) strategy, Mr Mittal said the group was looking at the possibility of employing this for fixed line or broadband applications. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh, where the group launched basic services more than three years, it found that it could not extend the network in remote areas. Therefore, the group was trying to see if WiLL could be used to provide this. However, the group had no plans to offer limited mobility with WiLL, he said.

Asked how Bharti would differentiate itself from BSNL's fixed line services, especially since the tariff was the same, Mr Mittal said Bharti's emphasis would be on customer care and in providing value-added services right from the first day.

This would include connections on demand, convenient billing, high-speed data transmission facilities and 24-hour customer care.

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