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Friday, 11 November 2005 00:00
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The last component of an ambitious plan to lower national and international long-distance call rates will fall in place by the end of the month when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) implements the carrier access code (CAC). The code will allow individual users to decide which company will carry their long-distance traffic.
So, Bharti mobile phone users can indicate whether calls they wish to make from Delhi to Mumbai are to be carried on a Reliance Infocomm or a VSNL long-distance network as these companies' rates are more attractive than Bharti's, for instance.
Today, without the CAC, there is little competition among long-distance players like Bharti, VSNL-Tata and Reliance since their subscribers cannot choose their long-distance carriers.
So, even if, say, Reliance offers lower long-distance rates than Bharti, users of Bharti's mobile service cannot use Reliance's long-distance service. In effect, though there are three domestic long-distance players, no competition exists among them.
Once the CAC is allowed, this will change, especially because stand-alone long-distance call providers will now be able to offer very low rates to individuals who will now be free to use their services, much like what happens in countries like the US.
On July 24, 2002, Trai had issued instructions that the CAC be implemented, but at that time Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) had said it was not ready for this and would have to spend a huge amount of money to implement the service since its exchanges were not computerised.
One of the pre-requisites for the CAC is having a billing service which maintains a call data record (CDR). CDR, literally, records call duration and to whom a call is made).
When BSNL expressed the inability to implement the CDR, the department of telecommunications gave it a one-year extension in November 2002. MTNL, too, had said it could not implement the CDR (and, therefore, the CAC) for similar reasons.
The DoT, had, however, issued CACs for long-distance players in 2002 itself. So, if a call has to be carried by Reliance, an user will have to dial 1030. For Bharti, it is 1050 and for VSNL, 1040, and then punch in the STD code and the phone number.
In 2002, the DoT had formed a committee to examine the whole issue of costs. The committee had concluded that the actual cost for setting up the CDR and the CAC for BSNL would be a fourth of Rs 2,000 crore BSNL had indicated.
It was pointed out that BSNL had added a lot of other costs, such as those of replacing certain old exchanges, which they would have had to change anyway.
According to Trai, BSNL's CDR billing system should be fully stable by the end of the month and, therefore, it has asked all operators to submit details of their CDR-CAC readiness by November 21. After this, Trai will reiterate its earlier order for implementation.
Once this happens, Trai will also allow long-distance operators to charge lower rates for carrying calls. Today, a minute's carriage charges are set at between 20 paise and Rs 1.1 for different distances even though leased line rates have fallen by over 70 per cent over the past few months. Trai has said that after the CAC is implemented, operators will be free to charge market rates and so, rates are expected to tumble.



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