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BSNL cuts off mobile access over debt dispute

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Indian state-owned telco BSNL still has not restored all points of interconnections, despite clear instructions from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), according to reports in the country.

Earlier this month, BSNL cut off connectivity to Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular numbers in several states, over a dispute regarding non-payment of fees for providing interconnection between fixed lines and mobiles. BSNL is claiming that it is owed $550,000 by the three operators.

BSNL was ordered to restore interconnections between its landline phones and private operator’s mobile phones by last Friday, but according to the TRAI, the company still has not restored the services.

As a result, BSNL customers are not able to make call from landlines to Airtel, Vodafone and Idea mobile phones, and the mobile operators’ subscribers are not able to make calls to landlines. BSNL is only allowing customers to make calls to emergency numbers 100, 101, 102 & 108.

The move goes against the ruling from TRAI and also a ruling from the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). The TDSAT said that it will rule on the matter in November.

The Tribunal had previously said that the operators should still pay BSNL the money owed, however, the operators say BSNL owes them in return a combined amount in the region of $50m.

BSNL has reportedly told local news sources that it wants the operators to pay first as those payments are Interconnect Usage Charges. However, it was not available for comment, having not updated its web site since July 2011, when the disputes first surfaced, and removing all media contact details from the site.

The company also recently offered to hand back its Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum for 17 states to the government, and is seeking a $1.67bn refund after making heavy losses. BSNL has made a loss of $1.2bn over the past 12 months, primarily due to high staff cost and payments made for acquiring 3G and BWA spectrum. In that period, the state-owned telco has paid more than 47 per cent of its total income in salary to its employees. The firm is now preparing a voluntary retirement plan to staff as part of its efforts to revive the company.


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