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War fears delay Bharti, Data Access ILD plans

G. Rambabu

Sources pointed out that the Department of Telecommunications was particularly keen to push through the security clearances because although it had announced the opening up of the sector on April 1, 2002, the customers were still denied a choice of service.

NEW DELHI, June 4

THE war clouds looming over the sub-continent have taken their first telecom casualty — international long-distance services to be launched by Bharti Telesonic Ltd and Data Access Ltd.

According to official sources, the security clearances from various Government departments that both these companies are awaiting could be delayed by a couple of months.

"Although Bharti and Data Access are up and ready with their infrastructure, they cannot offer their services to customers without the security clearances. The security agencies have not agreed to issue any provisional clearance pending installation of the requisite monitoring equipment. It is expected that the equipment will be installed in the next three to four months," the sources said.

They pointed out that the Union Communications Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, had written to the Home Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, pointing out that the delays in issuing security clearances was causing losses to the private operators who had made huge investments in their infrastructure deployment.

"The Minister will also take up this matter with Mr Advani once the `war tensions' subside. Hopefully by the last week of this month, Mr Mahajan will be able to raise this issue with the Home Minister," they said. This meeting with the Home Minister would also be followed up with the Prime Minister's Office and the National Security Advisor, they noted.

Sources pointed out that the Department of Telecommunications was particularly keen to push through the security clearances because although it had announced the opening up of the sector on April 1, 2002, the customers were still denied a choice of service. Incumbent operator Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) will continue to enjoy a monopoly status for the next couple of months, they added.

The sharp fall in tariffs which were expected with the opening up of the sector is also yet to materialise. Although both Bharti and Data Access have promised to offer international tariffs at rates up to 40 per cent lower than that prevailing, VSNL has not lowered its rates as yet.

Being the only operator at present, the company wanted to hold on to its margin as long as possible, they said.

However for Bharti and Data Access, the delay in security clearances is proving to be costly. Both the companies rushed in to take licences and deploy their networks with the intention of giving VSNL a run for its money.

They have also signed interconnect agreements with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), but have had to postpone their launch dates repeatedly.

While the company officials are confident that the DoT will be able to help them clear the decks for a speedy launch, they are aware that until the tempers on the border cool, they will not be able to force the issue.

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