A day after information technology & communications minister Kapil Sibal announced the government would introduce free mobile phone roaming across the country from early 2013, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chairman Rahul Khullar said the regulator would soon start a public consultation process before a final decision.
“The matter is yet to be decided. The question whether national roaming should be free is a tariff-related issue. It is a matter on which Trai is competent to take a decision,” Khullar told reporters on the sidelines of a telecom summit organised by industry body Ficci.
Considering the strong opposition from telcos, which say they will lose at least Rs 13,500 crore if roaming charges are abolished, Sibal’s and consumers’ dream to see the rates fall while calling when they are out of their home circle might take more time. Even the expected fall in rates could be just a dream.
Nationwide free roaming was announced as part of the National Telecom Policy 2012, approved in May. As part of the One Nation-Free Roaming plan, consumers will not have to pay hefty roaming charges while travelling out of their home telecom circle.
“Very soon, you will see us take the first move in that direction. There will be a public consultation preceding any final decision on the matter,” said Khullar.
According to industry estimates, free roaming would benefit about 12 per cent of all total mobile users in the country. There were about 900 million wireless subscribers in India till October, according to data published by Trai. Currently, the average roaming charge ranges from 75 paise to Rs 1 a minute.
Operators have been up in arms against the move. They argue the national long-distance component when a person roams outside his circle has to be paid by someone and if roaming charges are abolished, it has to be paid by the operators — which is not economically viable. Some analysts, however, opine that with roaming abolished, consumers will take the major initial impact of free roaming and it would be neutralised in two years or so.
Based on the revised base price, the value of spectrum that would be put on auction by March-end is estimated at about Rs 20,000 crore, R Chandrashekhar, secretary, department of telecommunications, said here on Friday.
The Cabinet had on Thursday cleared the re-auction of 1,800-MHz spectrum in three circles — Delhi, Mumbai and Karnataka — at a reserve price 30 per cent lower than that of the November auction. Due to the high reserve price, these circles did not get any bidder.
He said the same auctioneer would be used for the auctions, expected to be completed before the end of this financial year. The Cabinet had yesterday approved a 30 per cent cut in the reserve price for sale of mobile phone spectrum in the four zones of Delhi, Mumbai, Karnataka and Rajasthan, that went unsold in the recent auction.
The reserve price for last month's sale per block in Delhi was Rs 693.06 crore, while the same for Mumbai, Karnataka and Rajasthan was fixed at Rs 678.45 crore, Rs 330.12 crore and Rs 67.08 crore, respectively.