Bharti Airtel shuts network to SMSes from subscribers of Aircel & Reliance Communications [Telecom] [Times of India]
(Times of India Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) NEW DELHI: Sparks are flying ahead of Diwali in India's telecom market after the country's largest mobile phone company, Bharti Airtel, closed its network to incoming text messages from subscribers of two other operators, Aircel and Reliance Communications.
Bharti Airtel executives said the company was forced to do this after the two companies started flooding its network with what they described as "free spam messages", a charge that has been vehemently denied by RCom and Aircel. "They (Aircel and RCom) are sending free SMS to our networks, which, in turn, is impacting the quality of service on our network and, therefore, the quality of service to our own customers," an Airtel spokesperson said.
Aircel and RCom, in turn, allege that Airtel was resorting to pressure tactics just days before Diwali to force them to pay more towards SMS termination charges. Executives of the two companies also accused Airtel, founded by billionaire Sunil Mittal, of abusing its dominant position.
"The timing of this step on the eve of Diwali reflects Bharti's blatant disregard for the interests of millions of customers and is another instance of abuse of market position by Bharti," an RCOM spokesperson said.
RCom, the second-largest mobile phone operator by users offering services on both GSM and CDMA technology platforms, also slammed Bharti for "unilaterally taking this coercive action on an issue that was sub judice before Supreme Court and was also under consideration by sector regulator Trai". But, an executive close to Airtel defended the company's move saying "allowing any misuse of our (Airtel's) network would compromise the quality of service for our own customers during the festival season".
Companies may take dispute to court
"Bharti Airtel has asked us to sign a bilateral interconnect agreement, which says 10 paise per SMS will be charged to a non-Airtel customer. We are resisting this as the cost for our customers would go up significantly," the Aircel spokesperson said.
The two companies may take the matter to court this week. The issue dates back to November 2011, when Airtel demanded that Aircel, which is majority-owned by Malaysia's Maxis, pay 10 paise for every text message terminating on its network. Subsequently, Airtel raised a bill of about 25 crore for the period from April to October 2011.
In January, Airtel sent a notice asking Aircel to pay the amount by the end of that month. Aircel approached the telecom tribunal (TDSAT) claiming that the dues claimed by Airtel were "arbitrary, illegal, wrong, unilateral and without any basis". But, in September, the telecom tribunal ruled in favour of Airtel. Aircel has challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court.
Denying the charges of Aircel and RCOM, the Airtel spokesperson said that the "company followed a completely non-discriminatory policy with all operators on the matter of interconnection for SMS services".
"However, two operators have chosen to adopt a discriminatory practice. They are sending free SMS to our networks, which, in turn, is impacting the quality of service on our network and, therefore, the quality of service to our own customers. We are fully compliant with the court orders and/or the agreements on SMS termination. We advise these operators to follow non-discriminatory SMS interconnection practices to ensure uninterrupted and high quality service to their customers," the Airtel spokesperson said.
The executive close to Airtel also alleged that the company had sent out "several reminders to all operators not honouring either the contract or court orders" on SMS termination rates. "Court has upheld that SMS termination charges have to be paid. In spite of this, some operators are not paying. They want to use the network without paying and without signing a contract. This contradicts the court orders," he said.
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