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Tribunal dismisses cell operators' plea -- Limited mobility cleared for fixed line service provider

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NEW DELHI, March 15

THE long wait is finally over.

The Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has dismissed the petition of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) challenging the Government's decision allowing fixed service providers to offer limited mobility WLL services.

In its final order on the year-long case, the tribunal has ruled that the COAI's contention that the Government has deviated from the New Telecom Policy (NTP) 1999 holds no ground.

More importantly, it has pointed out that the petitioners essentially are assailing a policy decision taken by the Government, which is outside the scope of the jurisdiction of a court or a tribunal.

"Unless it can be shown that the Government has acted contrary to law or taken a decision, which amounts to infringement of a Constitutional provision, the court cannot direct the Government to change its policy. The Supreme Court, in a number of cases, has emphasised this position," it has stated.

It has ruled that the Government is entitled to deviate from a policy decision and adopt another policy or deviate from the original policy in public interest if the situation so demands.

In this case, a new technology has come into play. It makes it possible to render cheaper telephone service with mobility to consumers both in rural and urban areas. The Government cannot deny the benefit of this new technology to the consumer on the pretext that the policy decision framed earlier does not permit the advent of a new technology.

The entire objective of NTP 1999 and the purpose behind switching over from duopoly to multi-poly are to encourage competition and to increase tele-density in the country. The service must be affordable for the common man, it has noted.

"We do not see the introduction of the new technology as anything but a reward to the consumers. The attempt of the petitioners is to block for private gain the introduction of new technology that will the benefit of the common people. The introduction of WLL by basic operators may cut into the profit margin of the petitioners, but that is no reason why the common man should be denied the facility of a cheap and mobile telephone service. The interest of the common man must be the prime consideration in deciding all the issues relating to telephone service," the tribunal has ruled.

TDSAT has in its final ruling stated that the advance of technology must be allowed to go ahead without any check or hindrance. India must be in step with the rest of the world in adopting the latest technological developments and pass on the benefit of these advances to its citizens.

The tribunal has further noted that the Government's decision to allow limited mobility WLL services was taken after elaborate discussion and deliberation.

It is not a case of mindless change of policy in a hurry nor is the decision arbitrary or mala fide in any way, it has said. The attempt by the petitioners to claim exclusivity in relation to available technology is invalid and if accepted, will result in over-rigid policy in a field where there is constant flux of available technology.

The attempt to segregate wireless and wired technology into rigid compartments cannot also be sustained, the tribunal has ruled.

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