“Go-slow tactics favour private telecom players”

Special Correspondent

BSNL’s capacity addition process tardy: union

“Private players have no obligation to provide service in rural areas”

“TRAI has asked BSNL to unblock its copper cable network and share it with private companies”

CUDDALORE: The go-slow tactics adopted by the Centre in procuring advanced telecom equipment and the guidelines of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India seem to favour private players, P. Abhimanyu, deputy general secretary of the BSNL Employees’ Union, has said.

Talking to reporters here on Saturday, he said the tender for BSNL’s proposed capacity addition of 4.5 crore connections, which started in March 2005, was through only for 1.35 crore connections.

“No conditionality”

China was insisting upon technology transfer from foreign telecom companies launching operations in its soil, but India was not imposing any such conditionality. The copper cable network set up by BSNL for broadband service had earned the acclaim of Australia. But the TRAI had directed BSNL to “unblock” the network and share its infrastructure with private players, he said.

Mr. Abhimanyu said that of BSNL’s four crore landlines, one crore lines were in the rural areas. Yet, the Planning Commission had set a target for BSNL to provide rural connections during the 11th Plan, whereas the private players were free from any such obligation.

BSNL had been demanding a level playing field to provide services at an affordable cost. The private players tended to form a cartel, he said, and this was evident from the recent increase in the tariffs for local calls, STD and short messaging services.

“No government backing”

While Vodafone had the full backing of the British government, the Centre was not supporting BSNL; rather, it was trying to list the BSNL in stock exchange by disinvesting 20 per cent of its shares. The employees feared that it was an attempt to privatise BSNL and allow the private players to capture its infrastructure. Therefore, to oppose such a move, the officials and the employees had formed the Joint Forum of BSNL Unions and Associations.

Mr. Abhimanyu admitted that BSNL ought to improve its services. With an annual turnover of Rs. 1 lakh crore and a cash reserve of Rs. 40,000 crore, it could set up more microwave towers. But the Board of Directors could not take decisions but had to depend on the government. Such a constraint claimed, had stalled BSNL’s growth.

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