FinMin wants DoT to act fast on abolishing roaming charges

Thomas K. Thomas
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The Finance Ministry has asked the Department of Telecom to speed up the implementation of its policy to abolish mobile roaming charges.

Once roaming charges are waived, mobile users will be able to get incoming calls free of charge and outgoing calls at local rates while travelling anywhere in the country.

The policy was approved by the Union Cabinet in May but the Telecom Department has not yet moved on implementing it. At the time of announcing the policy, the Telecom Ministry had not specified any time frame for making roaming free.

The move by the Finance Ministry is being seen as a step to reduce pressure on the Government, which has been criticised for taking anti-consumer decisions such as increasing diesel price.

According to Government sources, all departments are being told to expedite policies that could bring some cheer to consumers. In this context, the Finance Ministry’s dictat to the Department is significant as it comes at a time when mobile operators are looking to increase tariffs in general.

Mobile companies are against abolishing roaming tariffs as this will impact their revenues. Operators charge Re 1 per minute for incoming calls and Rs 1.50 per minute for outgoing calls while roaming. SMS is also priced at Rs 1.50 per message. Once the roaming charges are abolished, then consumers will get free incoming calls and outgoing calls will be at local call level. Mobile firms get about 8 per cent of their overall revenues from roaming services, which could get wiped out.

But before this is implemented, the Department will have to take a decision on pan-India unified licensing. It will also have to take TRAI’s views on key issues such as numbering plan and interconnection to facilitate free roaming services.

The EU experience

Market watchers, however, said that this was not the first time roaming charges are being abolished. The European Commission has implemented a scheme wherein a mobile user in Europe can travel in any country in the continent without paying roaming fee. Although the European operators had also opposed it, the Commission went ahead with it.

(This article was published on September 21, 2012)
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