Net telephony gets the nod

If you thought telecom tariffs couldn’t get any cheaper, you have another think coming. Soon, you could be calling friends abroad for just Re 1 to 2 per minute, a sharp drop from the present average of Rs 7/minute. National long-distance rates could drop to 30-50 paise per minute, against Rs 1-2 at present. And local calls could be virtually free, at just about 30 paise per minute, against today’s Re 1.But how has this stunning reduction become possible? Consumers have Trai to thank. The telecom regulator has thrown open the voice market to internet service providers (ISPs), ushering in the promise of between 40% and 80% lower voice tariffs. With this, Trai has, in a single stroke, destroyed some of the last regulatory barriers to advanced and cheaper technology. But hold on a moment. Couldn’t you already make calls over the internet? Yes, but only over net-enabled PCs. You couldn’t terminate internet telephony calls on fixed and mobile networks and vice-versa.Trai has now made it possible to do so. And with ISPs set to hammer rates down to a new low, mobile service providers will be left with little choice but to follow suit.It gets better. All call charges today include a 30 paise interconnection cost (fixed tariff paid by an operator when he uses another operator’s network for his customers). Trai is revisiting these rates as well. Trai move will help BPO industry.The Department of Telecom, which could have been the only roadblock, has welcomed the Trai move to allow ISPs to offer unrestricted internet telephony services.“Trai deserves credit for a wonderful job. We welcome any step towards liberalization and deregulation and are happy to embrace this recommendation,’’ S Behura, secretary, DoT said. Not everyone shares that sentiment. While the ISP Association of India (ISPAI) rejoiced, GSM association COAI said the move violated level playing field issues as mobile operators pay a considerably higher entry fee compared to ISPs. But the GSM lobby’s stand may not find too many takers. In its recommendations, Trai said this benefit to consumers and ISPs comes “without impacting access providers due to increase in the telephony call volumes’’. SPAI president Rajesh Chharia points out, “The step enables customers to make domestic and international calls to mobile and fixed line users at a fraction of the current costs. This will help dramatically increase India’s Internet and broadband penetration.”

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