TDSAT calls on BSNL to halt disconnections over interconnection charge dispute

3 Oct 2011

India’s Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has directed state-owned telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) not to disconnect services to private operators over a dispute related to the alleged non-payment of dues for providing interconnection between fixed lines and mobiles. The Business Standard reports that the TDSAT has passed an interim order which stays BSNL from disconnecting services after petitions from Reliance Communications (RCOM) and Tata Teleservices (TTSL). The tribunal meanwhile has also directed BSNL to restore those Points of Interconnection (PoIs) of the private telecom operators that it might have already disconnected; BSNL is thought to have disconnected PoIs of RCOM, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and TTSL in the Punjab circle. Further, the TDSAT has said that until the next hearing on the matter private operators will continue to pay for interconnection at previously agreed rates, with the tribunal set to next discuss the issue on 1 November.

BSNL is claiming outstanding dues of INR1.65 billion (USD32.7 million) related to interconnection usage charges, and the telco has already issued notices to the private operators demanding payment. The PSO is claiming that the outstanding figure is based on an interconnection rate of INR0.65 per minute, but the private players have contended that the Interconnect Usage Charges (Regulation 2009) mandates an INR0.15 per minute charge for calls to BSNL’s fixed line network within a state/circle.

As noted in TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in March 2009 the Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released details of new interconnection usage charges that would apply from 1 April that year. Under the regulatory update it was announced that the termination charge for all types of domestic calls (i.e. fixed to fixed, fixed to mobile, mobile to fixed and mobile to mobile) was to be reduced to INR0.20 per minute, down from INR0.30 per minute. Termination charges for incoming international calls meanwhile was increased to INR0.40 per minute from INR0.30 per minute, while the DLD call ceiling was retained at INR0.65 per minute; the TRAI claimed that non-reduction of the ceiling would encourage NLD operators to expand to rural regions. The TRAI meanwhile, at the direction of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, is re-examining interconnection rates, and in December 2010 it issued a pre-consultation paper, before releasing a full consultation document on the matter in April 2011, calling for submissions from interested parties, with a deadline of 18 May 2011. The regulator has since published a list of submissions for the cost model that should be used for interconnection charges, but a final decision on any new pricing regime has not yet been affected.