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Pay More for Roaming - TRAI imposes ADC levy on roaming calls

April 15, 2005
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The access deficit charge (ADC) issue seems to be at the centre of controversy once again. This time, the cellular operators are up in arms against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) announcement imposing a levy on roaming subscribers. Under this, roaming calls made by subscribers within India will henceforth be treated as STD calls and global roaming calls as incoming international calls and will therefore be subject to ADC.

As per TRAI calculations, national roaming users will have to pay an ADC of Re 0.30 per minute, equivalent to the deficit charge on STD calls, while international roaming subscribers would have to pay Rs 3.25 per minute. The access deficit amount for all calls from roaming subscribers would have to be collected by the visited network operator and paid to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

Further, the regulator has amended the Telecommunication Interconnection Usage Charges Regulation, 2003 to redefine the terms national and international roaming. In the new sense, roaming will mean enabling a cellular subscriber to automatically make and receive voice and data calls and access other services while travelling outside the geographical coverage area of the home network. "It is national roaming when the visited network and the home network of the subscriber are in the same country and it is international roaming when the visited network and the home network are in different countries," says the TRAI statement.

Cellular operators are not happy with the TRAI order and may challenge it. "This is pure manipulation. TRAI has changed the definition of international and national calls just to make ADC applicable," says T.V. Ramachandran, directorgeneral of the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI). "This is an incorrect action and is anti-consumer. It will have to be loaded against the consumers to recover costs, which we do not want. We are in consultations with our members on the next course of action to challenge this.

The COAI feels TRAI has been hasty in its decision, especially since it had floated a consultation paper for a fresh round of ADC cut last month and the date for replies had not expired.

For roaming consumers, the levy spells bad news. Operators will inevitably pass on the ADC burden to them in order to recover their costs. This will result in higher roaming tariffs over the current tariffs which were as it is increased last year. Bharti has already indicated that if the order is implemented, it may be forced to pass on the burden to its subscribers.

But TRAI officials are clear on their stand. According to them, cellular operators have been charging international roamers in India Rs 100 a minute. They were treating their calls in India as local calls and avoiding paying the ADC due on incoming international calls. With this mandate, there is no scope for any irregular interpretation.

As of now, talks are continuing on both sides but so far there appears to be no resolution. Whether the cellular operators will actually challenge the order remains to be seen.

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