Airtel, RCom in spat over routing toll-free calls

Indian carriers squabble over routing of toll-free calls, with Airtel accusing Reliance Communications of violating a prior agreement the two set up in 2007.

Indian carriers Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications (RCom) are sparring over the routing of toll-free calls, amid alleged violation of an agreement set between the two back in 2007.

The Hindu Business Line reported Wednesday that RCom had approached the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), accusing Airtel of blocking toll-free calls from its enterprise clients.

For toll-free numbers, a telco has to enter an agreement with other operators, so that calls from its subscribers can go through without being charged a fee by other telcos.

RCom agreed with Airtel in 2007 to allow customers to dial toll-free numbers starting with "1800" and "1860". In return, RCom pays 52 paise (less than US$0.01) per call to Airtel.

The report said the spat began when RCom started terminating some toll-free calls--that originated on Airtel's network--outside of India.

The agreement, according to Airtel, stated that toll-free calls starting with "1800" cannot be terminated outside India. For international toll-free calls, the number should start with "00800", in which cases RCom is supposed to pay 1.10 Indian rupees (about US$0.02) per call, the company argued.

Airtel claimed RCom deprived it of higher revenue and also violated the National Numbering Plan by masking international toll-free calls under the "1800" series.

RCom responded by saying there was no distinction on using "1800" numbers, and that the "00800" series is applicable only to bilateral arrangements between an international telco and an Indian one.

It also called Airtel's actions as "mala fide" ("bad faith") and arbitrary for trying to create an artificial distinction between calls terminating in and outside of India.

According to The Hindu Business Line, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has taken the view that the "1800" and "1860" series are meant for domestic, not international, calls only, and will submit an affidavit in the tribunal to that effect.

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