Issue goes to telecom tribunal; pact was signed in 2007

Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications are at loggerheads over routing toll-free calls.

The spat has reached such levels that Airtel has begun blocking toll-free calls coming from RCom’s enterprise clients. RCom, in turn, has dragged Airtel to the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal.

When a consumer buys an electronic good or even an automobile, he is given a toll-free number where he can lodge complaints and request for service.

This toll-free service is managed by a telecom operator in the back-end for which it has to enter into an agreement with all the other telecom operators. This is done so that the other telecom companies allow such calls to go through without charging a fee from their subscribers.

RCom had entered into such an interconnection agreement with Bharti Airtel in 2007 for enabling consumers to dial toll-free numbers starting with ‘1800’ and ‘1860’. In return, RCom pays about 52 paise per call to Airtel to offset the expenses towards the free call.

The problem, however, started when RCom started terminating some calls originating on Airtel’s network to a location outside India. According to Airtel, toll-free calls starting with ‘1800’ cannot be terminated outside India.

The company has argued that for international toll-free calls, the number series should start with ‘00800’ and in such cases RCom is supposed to give Rs 1.10 per call.

Airtel reckons that RCom has not only deprived it of a higher revenue share but has also violated the National Numbering Plan by masking international toll-free calls under the 1800 series. RCom, on the other hand, has taken a view that there is no such distinction on using the 1800 series. According to RCom, the ‘00800’ series is applicable only to bilateral arrangements between an international operator and an Indian operator.

RCom has termed Airtel’s action as mala fide and arbitrary as it was attempting to create an artificial distinction between calls terminating in India and outside India.

DoT’s stand

The Department of Telecom has, however, taken a view that the 1800/1860 series is meant only for national calls and cannot be used for making international calls.

According to an internal note seen by Business Line, the DoT will submit an affidavit in the telecom tribunal to this effect.

(This article was published on August 15, 2012)
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