Private mobile services companies are in a furious dispute with state-run telecom operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. They say BSNL is using coercive tactics by suddenly hiking interconnectivity fees in the important Rajasthan circle, asking private operators to pay up or face disconnection.
In a rare show of unity, both COAI and AUSPI - rival bodies representing two different sections of private telecom companies - said in a joint statement, "We wish to inform all the consumers/CAGs of Rajasthan regarding the illegal and coercive activity of BSNL to attempt to disconnect interconnectivity between its network (both landline and mobile) and private mobile operators' networks."
BSNL has threatened to disconnect private operators from its networks unless they pay Rs37.65 crore upfront as carriage charges. The private companies say this demand violates the regulations of both the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and TDSAT, the authority for wireless connectivity.
If BSNL carries out its threat, cellphone users will not be able to make calls to the PSU's fixed line telephone users and vice versa; impacting over 45 million telecom subscribers in Rajasthan.
While BSNL is a minor player in the mobile services segment, it has the country's largest network of wired landlines, thanks to its long-lasting monopoly in this segment.
"The disconnection threats by BSNL, if carried out, would result in extreme hardship to consumers in various circles of all networks, including that of BSNL," the operators said.
The associations said Interconnect Usage Charges (Regulation 2009) set by TRAI mandates that a private operator pay 15 paise per minute as carriage charges for a call to the BSNL's fixed line network within the state/circle. Instead, BSNL has arbitrarily decided to hike this charge to 65 paise a minute, and threatened disconnection if the difference is not paid.