No Roaming Charges Within India from 2013 for Mobile Phones

Mobile phone users will not have to pay roaming charges when traveling within India from next year, telecom ministerKapil Sibal said Monday, but telcos say abolishing these charges could lead to higher call rates. The minister also said that the government was did not want to control or govern the internet and added that the Centre would enter into dialogue with all stakeholders to deal with malicious use of cyber space.

“Our (telecom) secretary has told you that it will be free from next year,”” Sibal said when asked to specify timeline for implementation for the ‘one-nation-free roaming’ that he had announced earlier this year. ET reported Friday that India would do away with roaming charges in 2013. The Cabinet has already approved the new telecom policy whose guidelines include doing away with roaming charges.

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Last week, telecom secretary R Chandrasekhar told ET that this consumer centric move would be implemented next year. “”Our first priority is the upcoming spectrum auctions. At the same time, we are working on the Unified Licence (UL) and we want to finalise this by December.

Once the UL regime is rolled out post December, concepts like ‘One nation-free roaming’ that is part of it will be introduced. This will happen sometime next year (2013). At this stage it will be impossible to specify the exact time frame,”” Chandrasekhar had said.

Roaming charges account for about 10% of the sector’s revenues, and Director General of Cellular Operators Association of India, Rajan S Mathews said that telcos were likely to offset this loss by increasing call rates.

“It is a fact that STD and ISD calls cross subsidize local calls. This comes at a time when the industry has to pay thousands of crore for airwaves, higher diesel costs and as other new costs are imposed on the sector,” Mathews said.

The COAI, which represents operators on the GSM platform such as Vodafone and Bharti Airtel, is also of the view that the government must sort out a slew of policy related issues, including migration to the unified licence, before abolishing roaming charges.

“Since it is a tariff related issue, sector regulator Trai must have a consultation process and issue its recommendations first,” Mathews added.

On internet governance, Sibal said freedom of speech protected some aspects of online expression, but pointed out that free speech could not be extended to all online activities.

News source:The Economic Times