New Delhi: TDSAT Friday directed Bharti Airtel and Vodafone to file their replies on maintainability of a petition filed by an NGO alleging that the telecom players were charging 10 paise SMS termination fee in a "cartelised manner".
A single-member TDSAT bench of P K Rastogi asked both operators -- Bharti Airtel and Vodafone -- to file a short reply over NGO Telecom Watchdog's petition alleging that they "are doing this illegal activity in a cartelised manner".
However, during the proceedings, counsel appearing for Vodafone questioned the maintainability of Telecom Watchdog's petition filed by its counsel Prashant Bhushan.
The tribunal has asked the telecom operators to file their reply in three weeks and listed the matter on January 11, 2013 for hearing on its maintainability.
Meanwhile, Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) dropped the name of TRAI from the matter after observing that NGO has claimed no relief from the sectoral regulator.
The petitioner has submitted that it was "aggrieved by the inaction of the Respondent No 1 (TRAI) against the arbitrary decisions of the operators, who are all out to fix Termination Charges at 10 paisa per SMS by way of bilateral agreements with different operators that is detrimental to the interest of the consumers.
"They are doing this illegal activity in a cartelised manner and are jointly exploiting TRAI's regulations that had put the IUC for SMS under 'forbearance'.
The operators are converting 'forbearance' into a 'mandatory' provision under which all the operators henceforth must pay Termination charges of 10 paisa per SMS in a 'non-transparent' manner," the NGO had alleged.
According to the NGO, some operators had come before TDSAT challenging termination charges, but they did not really "contest" the issue as it "suits their common objective" of hiking the tariffs to the consumers in a "uniform/cartelised manner".
The NGO has requested the tribunal to "strike down any arrangement insisted upon by Respondents No 2 & 3 (Airtel and Vodafone) with any other UAS licensee in so far as it relates to the Termination Charges for SMS".
It also requested to "issue directions to Respondents No 2 & 3 (Airtel and Vodafone)for continuing with bill-and-keep arrangement till TRAI fixes a reasonable cost based tariff for Termination Charge on SMS".
Termination charges of Short Message Services (SMS) affects consumers directly and so far TRAI has fixed termination charges for voice calls only and not for messages.
Termination charges are paid by an operator on whose network calls or SMSes originate to another operator on whose network these communications end. These charges have a direct bearing on SMS tariff.
This is an amended petition. Earlier, the NGO had filed its petition seeking directions against TRAI. However, after amending it, the NGO added Bharti Airtel and Vodafone in it.