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SC hearing on limited mobility — Cellular operators accuse DoT of ignoring TRAI recommendations

Our Bureau

NEW DELHI, Nov. 21

THE Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) took on headlong the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), accusing it of having ignored the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in allowing basic operators to offer limited mobility services.

Arguing before the Supreme Court, which is hearing the petition filed by the association, its counsel, Mr P. Chidambaram, noted that the authority while recommending limited mobility had suggested two key qualifications including non-substitutability of such services with cellular services.

The two conditions being that "WLL with limited mobility is not the same as cellular mobile services and the disturbance expected to be created in the level playing field by basic operators introducing this service can be evened out by making some necessary policy changes."

DoT, however, ignored these recommendations, he noted.

Mr Chidambaram also noted that the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which had dismissed the COAI petition, had erred in appreciating the scope of its jurisdiction, since it was the first and sole authority on questions of facts.

"Having misdirected itself on the scope of its jurisdiction, TDSAT failed to deal with many issues of fact and law that was argued before it. The Tribunal failed to deal with the issue of true reconstruction of New Telecom Policy-99 and whether permission to offer WLL was within the policy, outside or amounted to a change of policy," he said.

He said the Tribunal had also failed when it came to the issue of whether NTP-99 adopted by the Government amounted to law and was binding upon all parties concerned.

He questioned TDSAT's dealing on the issue of whether argument of "new technology" was a red herring, as it had been conclusively established that CDMA technology had been introduced as early as 1994-95. Its ruling that WLL with limited mobility offered benefits to consumers in rural and urban areas, betrayed non-application of mind.

Mr Chidambaram also disagreed with the conclusion that subscribers having WLL with limited mobility could dispense with the wireline phone.

It may be recalled that COAI had approached the apex court, after the Tribunal dismissed its petition opposing limited mobility on March 15.

A three-member Bench, comprising the Chief Justice, Mr G.B. Pattanaik, Mr Justice H.K. Sema and Mr Justice S.B. Sinha, is hearing the case. The next sitting of the Bench is scheduled for November 26, when it is expected to give its final order after hearing the deposition of DoT and basic operators.

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