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Security clearances hold up Bharti's ILD

G. Rambabu

NEW DELHI, May 21

ALTHOUGH Bharti Telesonic Ltd (BTSOL), the long-distance arm of the Bharti group, has finally signed an interconnect agreement with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) for its international operations, it is still not ready to offer its services to subscribers across the country.

According to Mr N Arjun, CEO, BTSOL, the company is yet to get security clearances from the various Government departments for its operations. Till such time, the launch of the international services will be on hold.

"All our infrastructure is in place, and even the interconnect agreement with BSNL has been finally signed. But until we get the security clearances, we cannot offer the benefit of our services to the subscribers," he said.

In other words, the subscriber continues to be denied a choice of the service provider and will have to pay up to 40 per cent higher rates for making international calls that are being routed through the gateways of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL).

Mr Arjun refused to comment on whether the company was in any way forced to arrive at an "unfavourable agreement" with BSNL because it wanted to clear the decks for the launch at an early date.

Although initially the company wanted to keep 55 per cent of the revenue from all outgoing international calls, the final agreement deviates from the earlier practice of percentage-wise revenue share, and instead settled for "flat rates" for sharing.

The agreement stipulates a rate of Rs 11.75 per minute per call to be paid by Bharti for allowing BSNL subscribers to utilise its gateways for making international calls, if the point of interconnect is within the short distance charging area (SDCA). If the point of interconnect is in a non-SDCA area, Bharti would pay Rs 15.35 per minute.

For incoming traffic, both the companies have arrived at graded rates, starting with a minimum of Rs 4.40 per call that BSNL would keep for terminating all calls from the Bharti gateways.

BSNL had objected to the percentage-wise sharing of revenue since the call rates being offered by Bharti were much lower. As a result, it would have lost out on a huge chunk of the revenue from international calls that it makes at present.

As regards the interconnect agreement for its NLD services, Mr Arjun said he was confident that a similar understanding, based on flat rate of sharing would be reached with BSNL soon.

He, however, clarified that the interconnect agreements were only an interim arrangement, since the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was working out the "standard rates" that would have to be followed.

"The TRAI will be ready with its final package within two months. So our interconnect agreement with BSNL is only for the interim period," he said.

While the consumer is one step closer to making cheaper international calls, there still remains confusion about the carrier access code (CAC) to be dialled for accessing Bharti's ILD services.

Although the company has said that the CAC for ILD operations will be the same as for NLD operations (50), the DoT is yet to come out with the details.

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