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India to drop local roaming charges by 2013

The government is looking to end domestic roaming charges by next year, but its telecom regulator has yet to start consultations with industry stakeholders on how to implement this change.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

India's government said it will end local roaming charges in 2013 to reduce consumers' mobile bill when they travel around the country, but the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) have yet to consult with relevant industry stakeholders on this proposal.

In a report by the Times of India on Tuesday, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal reiterated national roaming charges will be made free from next year, which was first promised in the National Telecom Policy 2012. Currently, users pay around INR 0.60 a minute in their home region but pay between INR 1.25 and INR 1.50 a minute while roaming in another telecom region.

However, TRAI has yet to kick off consultations for this move, which is the norm when such changes are proposed. The process requires a discussion paper followed by open house sessions with stakeholders before the rules are finalized, the report noted.

One of the issues that will need to be resolved will be the interconnect charges operators pay to another to connect a mobile user from one roaming circle to another, and this will take some time to resolve since this is a source of revenue for operators, it added.

Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), also pointed out operators would have to rework their infrastructure and billing systems to comply with the new rules.

He added the ending of local roaming charges might be too much hassle for too little users. "Our data suggests that only 10 percent of customers roam nationally. While the move is welcome, you are making the industry go through a churn for something that benefits only 10 percent of customers," Mathews said. 

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