New Delhi: The department of telecommunications (DoT) is considering a radical change in its policies that could mean the end of “roaming charges” that customers pay when they travel and, as a result, move to telecom networks other than their own. The plan, in its infancy, could face significant operational hurdles and may never see light of day.
DoT’s move, detailed in an internal note viewed by Mint, and confirmed by one of its officials who did not want to be identified, is prompted by both a desire to simplify the governance of the sector and a recognition of advances in telecom equipment.
The department is discussing bringing down the number of circles (operating regions) from 22 to four-five or even one, added the DoT official.
If it happens, it will be part of New Telecom Policy 2011, which is expected to change policies governing the sector. And if it happens, “roaming will be a thing of the past”, said the official. The new policy is expected to be finalized by the year-end.
DoT is still to work out details of moving to fewer circles. It needs to have a plan on migrating telcos to the new regime and, more importantly, it needs to figure out how to deal with spectrum-related issues. Even telcos such as Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Essar Ltd that have spectrum in all circles for 2G services have it in fewer circles for 3G services.
“This may be sorted out by allowing spectrum sharing and the operators can also have their own internal agreements to enable seamless connectivity,” the DoT official said. It is still unclear how the changes in the policy regarding the licensing and circles will affect interconnection payments (one operator paying another for terminating a call on the latter’s network).
The new telecom policy could see the delinking of licences from spectrum (currently everyone who gets a licence for mobile telephony is entitled to some start-up spectrum), and the unification of all licences (including domestic and international long distance, and Internet access).
The migration to the new policy could be complex with the current licences of telcos expiring on different dates across different circles. DoT is yet to spell out its renewal policy and this is worrying some telcos.
“There is still no clear renewal policy and this is causing some operators to get a little nervous over whether to continue investing in their networks,” said a senior executive with a telco, who did not want to be named.
DoT is also considering a uniform licence fee of 6% across services.