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Wednesday, Jan 29, 2003

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DoT gets tough with cell operators — Emergency access must for mobiles

G. Rambabu

NEW DELHI, Jan. 28

BELIEVE it or not: Cellular subscribers in most parts of the country cannot access basic emergency services such as police (100), fire brigade (101) and ambulance (102) from their handsets.

Although the three-digit access numbers have been reserved by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), meant to reach help in the shortest possible time, many cellular operators are yet to provide this facility to subscribers in their circles of operation. The reason: the additional investments they would have to make.

The department has now swung into action, warning them that this is an essential service mandated to be provided. It is also a part of the licence agreements that had been signed by them close to seven years ago. DoT has given time until September 2003 to the metro cellular operators to make available these facilities and up to September 2004 to the circle cellular operators.

In an internal note on the finalisation of the national numbering plan, it has brushed aside the excuses made by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) that it is "practically not possible" for them to provide these services in every city, town or village as the point of interconnection was not provided by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL). COAI had further argued "the emergency services are not applicable to the cellular operators as the concept of local area is applicable to basic operators."

In a strongly worded rebuttal, DoT has noted: "This statement is far from the factual position. The person using cellular telephone is neither concerned nor responsible for the availability of point of interconnection. In case of emergency, he should have the facility to access Police or Fire Brigade."

It has noted that this proposition is feasible the cellular equipment is very well aware of the location of the subscriber and from where the call is being made. The service provider is free to map this call to the designated telephone numbers of utility services.

In an even more damaging statement, it has stated: "This only indicates that various cellular licensees do not have any respect of human life and property even when we are claiming explosive growth of cellular services and facilities all over the country and providing state-of-the-art facilities. Therefore, the comments of COAI are recommended to be rejected straightaway. It may not be out of context to mention that 70 per cent of the original licence period of 10 years is already over and they have not provided connectivity even to the police and fire brigade," it has stated.

When contacted, the cellular operators noted that they could provide this facility if BSNL and MTNL were willing to route all such emergency calls to the police/fire station control room concerned. However, they were not willing to do so and were seeking "carriage charges." However, they did note that efforts were on to streamline the system soon.

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