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'Decision to benefit consumers'

The man who braved attacks from consumers and operators and shared strained relationship with DoT, became nostalgic about experiences in telecom.
None | By M Rajendran
UPDATED ON AUG 11, 2006 09:57 PM IST
You have seen various ups and downs of telecom sector in your tenure of three years. What are your plans now that you are all set to demit office next week?
I will sit at home and will be enjoying that. Since the three-year term in TRAI has been a very tough assignment, and it has been very difficult and very taxing, I would like to relax for sometime.

During the tenure you have received both bouquets and brickbats, and more of the latter for your recommendations and orders. Looking back, would you like to review a few of them, if possible?
Whatever decisions we took were taken after a lot of due diligence, and in retrospect, I would not change even a single decision. Let us look at one of the decisions for which we have been criticised: wireless in local loop (WLL), we said, could be fully mobile, because it was already fully mobile due to the loopholes in the licence conditions and litigation was on. We did not see any sense in that litigation, so we asked them to pay 50 per cent of the mobile licence fee to go mobile in the spirit of the licence. I was criticised, but that decision led to an explosive growth of mobile usage, so I don’t regret it at all. After this decision, the operators started adding two million subscribers every month from 0.3-0.4 million subscribers every month.

But you have been criticised more for approving tariff schemes of various operators that were seen to be predatory in nature. On the access deficit charge (ADC), there was a hue and cry from operators and government.
Some of the operators said that we had facilitated reduction in tariffs. Reliance had come out with 40 paise, it was approved by us since in law there was a noting which said that the challenger can have a predatory tariff, if the incumbent could have predatory pricing. When we allowed others, they also came up with such tariffs. This led to a situation where despite the fall in tariffs in a five-year period, the turnover of the mobile sector increased from Rs 3,000 crore to Rs 30,000 crore. Look at Bharti, when we took over, it was quoted at Rs 35 per share and today it is quoted at Rs 400 per share, so the market sees the value. Let us look at ADC, it is a cross-subsidy. Nowhere in the world is ADC more than five per cent. Today, it is four per cent in India and it would be zero per cent by 2008. Worldwide ADC was removed after three years.

Any regrets?
We have had such good growth, which I never believed was possible when we started taking decisions, so we are very satisfied. Of course, there are always regrets that you could have done better, for instance broadband, rural teledensity. The growth has started, but not to the level it should be. You are always not satisfied even with the best.

How do you plan to relax for sometime?
I am planning to write two books — one on the reforms in telecom sector and another on the privatisation process in India.

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