Cell companies approach SC

NEW DELHI OCT. 28. The phone wars are unlikely to end despite the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to scrap the licence raj in the telecom sector and introduce a composite licence for basic and cellular companies.

Cellular companies today approached the Supreme Court against a telecom dispute tribunal ruling that upheld the legality of WLL(M) services but asked the companies providing these services to pay an additional amount to "level the playing field vis-�-vis cellular companies."

Cellular companies had upped the ante after the Telecom Dispute Settlement & Appellate Tribunal's (TDSAT) ruling and wanted basic companies to pay a huge fee amount to the Government for entering the field of mobile services without a valid licence.

They also demanded compensation for the shrinking of the market caused by the entry of the basic phone companies.

The move to approach the Supreme Court a couple of months after the TDSAT order was prompted by the TRAI recommendations on two issues. On Monday, the TRAI asked basic phone companies to pay additional entry fees ranging from Rs. 130 crores to Rs. 230 crores in order to comply with TDSAT's directives. The same day it released a second set of recommendations related to ending the licence raj in the sector. Companies offering WLL(M) services were asked to pay an additional amount (about Rs. 1,500 crores in the case of Reliance) to qualify for a unified licence that would allow them to offer mobile services on a par with those being provided by cellular companies.

Cellular companies are upset by the TRAI's recommendation for the "meagre'' amount to be paid to it and have, therefore, decided to go for broke by approaching the Supreme Court, a senior cellular industry official has said. They had taken this route once before.

Cellular companies had approached the Supreme Court claiming that WLL(M) services were illegal and should be banned. However, the apex court sent the matter back to the TDSAT asking it to adjudicate on several issues.

The TDAT upheld the legality of WLL(M) services but asked the TRAI to suggest suitable additional entry fees that should be paid by the WLL(M) companies to "level the playing field.''

The amount suggested by the TRAI is too small to "compensate for the losses we suffered from their illegal commencement of mobile operations since 2001,'' the official said. "We also do not think the TRAI's recommendation for a second additional fee to enable WLL(M) companies to qualify as full fledged cellular operators is below our expectations. So we will fight before the Supreme Court on the basic issue. We will say that these operators are offering illegal services and should be banned forthwith,'' he said.

Cellular companies would ask the apex court to uphold the minority judgment by the TDSAT Chairman, D.P. Wadhwa, which had termed WLL services illegal. The fresh impetus to the phone wars was prompted by the TRAI's recommendation for small amounts to be paid by "these backdoor entrants to the world of mobile services,'' he said.

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