TRAI's interim order on sharing of `default traffic' stayed

NEW DELHI JAN. 31. An unintended bonanza for the Bharti Group was today stayed by the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

The TDSAT acted on an application moved by Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) which contended that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had no powers to decide as to who would get business (in terms of STD traffic) and on what basis. Staying TRAI's interim order on sharing of "default traffic", TDSAT has directed that all traffic of this nature shall pass through BSNL's networks. The case will now be heard on February 8.

The present `confusion' is the first complication encountered while opening national long distance telephony to competition. The problem arose after Bharti Telesonic became a competitor to the existing national long distance company BSNL. Mobile users (Bharti is insignificant in basic services) were asked to dial 010 followed by 050 plus the mobile number to avail of the Bharti's network. The customer access code (CAC) for routing STD calls through BSNL's network was 010 followed by 020 plus the number. But there are many subscribers who are unaware of this procedure and continued to dial the `old' BSNL STD codes. This traffic is termed "default traffic" in communications parlance.

BSNL has objected to TRAI's interim ruling that BSNL and Bharti Telesonic will carry the "default traffic" on alternate days. BSNL feels that Bharti, despite being a fledgling company, will get to carry half of the traffic on its points of presence.

However, Bharti CEO, Sunil Mittal, says this is an interim order pending TRAI's completion of public consultations on interconnection issues. Second, this system will cease to exist after three years when the customer access code (CAC) will be replaced by `pre-selection' and, third, both Bharti and BSNL have started extensively advertising their CAC codes and so the proportion of default traffic will go down. However, even Mr. Mittal admits that the TRAI order allocating full default traffic to Bharti on alternate days was unexpected.

On the other hand, the BSNL chairman-cum-managing director, D. P. S. Seth, says the arrangement proposed for default traffic is a deviation from the stand taken by the TRAI in the past.

He has sought deferment of implementation of long distance operations by Bharti till several major problems are resolved. Dr. Seth has warned of a catastrophe like total network collapse if the TRAI's proposals are implemented in their current form. He has requested that a reasonable date should be fixed by all operators before the CAC facility is launched.

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