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TRAI move to bar call forwarding to WLL customers — Pvt operators threaten protracted litigation

G. Rambabu

When TRAI has itself found the activities of the basic operators legally valid and strictly in accordance with the licence provisions, there is no ground for the authority to make such recommendations for amending the licence.

New Delhi , Aug. 24

IN a move to pressurise the Department of Telecommunications to ignore the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority to alter the licence agreements to bar them from providing multiple registration and call forwarding facilities to their limited mobility (WLL) customers, the private basic operators have threatened to resort to "protracted litigation".

In a letter of protest despatched to Mr Vinod Vaish, Secretary - DoT, late on Saturday, the private basic operators have noted that in case any such change is made the service to more than 3.5 million subscribers would be affected.

Facilities which have been legally promised to them while registering as subscriber would have to be withdrawn which may lead to a number of consumer disputes and cancellations. What is more, the interests of the various stakeholders including banks and financial institutions which have funded basic services projects would be prejudiced.

"It would no doubt lead to protracted litigation which would give a major setback to the process of achieving the objectives of NT'99 of higher tele-density and affordable services and of course the objective of ensuring level playing field for all. Telecommunications sector may be thrown back to the 1998 situation when the whole privatisation process had come to a standstill due to uncertainty," the letter notes.

Taking a swipe at the TRAI for suo motu recommending a change in the basic licence agreements, the letter points out that no open and transparent consultation process has been followed and the views of the affected party had not been sought. When TRAI has itself found the activities of the basic operators legally valid and strictly in accordance with the licence provisions, there is no ground for the authority to make such recommendations for amending the licence, which will have the impact of adversely changing the licence conditions, they have noted.

"After more than two years of the issue of the licence, after investment of more than Rs 20,000 crore and more than 3.5 million subscribers, after the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) having upheld the legality of the service, the regulator has suddenly discovered a new motive and spirit in the licence leading to make this recommendation. It is totally against the public interest, untenable, violative of the legal rights of basic operators and against the liberalisation process," the letter has said.

The operators have said that although the DoT has the right to amend the licence conditions, this right has to be exercised in a judicious manner and cannot be used arbitrarily and against the interest of the existing licensees or without their consent.

The licence is a contract between two parties and the courts have held in a number of such cases that no party has the unilateral right to amend the terms without the consent of the affected party.

It may be recalled that the authority had last week asked the DoT to amend the basic licence conditions since multiple registration and call forwarding facilities "violates the motive and the spirit" of the Government's decision to keep the WLL services distinct from cellular services.

While the private cellular operators have backed this move, stating that the TDSAT had clearly asked for such a limitation, the basic operators have opposed any alterations to their licences.

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