New Delhi: Even as India’s telecom regulator prepares to review rules on Internet telephony, several stand-alone Internet service providers, already under pressure from phone firms muscling into their turf, have asked the government to allow their customers to make calls to normal phones.
The Centre’s department of telecommunications (DoT), which has so far prevented calls originating on computers from interconnecting with fixed-line or cellular phones, in December asked Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) for suggestions on amending the Internet policy.
Seeking Trai’s opinion, DoT said availability of cheap Internet phones has made calls over the Web a viable alternative. “The biggest beneficiary of such a move is the consumer,” David Appasamy, head of communications at Sify, said,one of the few ISPs which survived since the sector was opened to private players in 1998.
Under the current law, only ISPs that are part of telecom companies are allowed to connect voice calls made from PCs or Internet phones to fixed phones. Such ISPs control nearly 75% of the Internet-access market, but have not started or publicized such cheap PC-to-phone calling.
Appasamy says the current data-carriage costs and his company’s nationwide network can help the company cut the domestic long-distance charges by at least half, if the government allows them to interconnect with other telecom companies. A call from Chennai to New Delhi costs between Re1 and Rs2.50 a minute today, depending upon what time of the day the call is made. “We can carry the call from the customer’s home to any city in India for 20 paise a minute,” he says. A 30-paise termination charge that has to be paid to the operator servicing the end-customer would increase the rate to 50 paise.
Asianet Satellite Communications, a Kerala-based cable operator with nearly 50,000 broadband customers, points out that under the present rules, while their customers are able to call their relatives in the US for Re1 a minute, they have to pay higher to talk to people in India.
“We currently have phones, costing around Rs2,000, which you can directly connect to our cable and start making calls to overseas for as little as Re1 per minute,” says G. Sankaranarayanan, executive vice-president of Dataline, the company’s ISP. “But who will buy a phone which can only make calls to outside countries?”Trai is expected to submit its recommendations to the government this month. It has hinted the monopoly of telecom operators—the only ones allowed to connect Internet calls to normal phones—may have to be removed.
The regulator points out that not even one telecom operator allows Internet subscribers to make calls to normal phones, despite being permitted to do so since February 2006. “One can argue that Internet telephony is likely to compete with conventional voice traffic which may badly affect their voice revenue. Therefore, chances of launching of Internet telephony by telecom licensees are low,” it notes.