Battle at cable landing stations

While international telecom majors such as AT&T, BT, France Telecom, Verizon, Cable & Wireless, the Asia Pacific Carriers’ Coalition and domestic players such as Bharti and Reliance Communications have endorsed telecom regulator Trai’s proposal that cable landing stations (CLS) in India be opened up, and regulations be enacted to mandate access for all players to existing CLS facilities, VSNL, part of the Tata Group, has opposed the move. It’s a confrontation between the incumbent and entrants. According to industry estimates, the mandatory sharing of cable landing stations, coupled with allowing the resale of international bandwidth in the country will help to reduce bandwidth rates by 40%. If Trai issues final recommendations as per its current proposal, and if this were to be accepted by the government, then international submarine cables coming into India and new cables being built by operators here will be access the cable landing stations (CLS) of BSNL, Bharti, VSNL and Reliance Communications. International majors such as AT&T, BT, Cable and Wireless and Verizon, Orange Business Services (France Telecom) all of which have already launched, or in the process of starting long distance services in India have also told Trai that regulating this segment is in line with international practices.

"With new ILD operators coming into the market in India, it is important that they are able to get timely and equal access to the CLS, in order to be able to efficiently use the international capacity which they either own or have leased on a long-term basis,” Cable & Wireless said. The company has also pointed out that there has already been one high-profile dispute relating to access to cable-landing stations in India, adding that the publication of fair and transparent terms for CLS access and co-location should avoid such protracted disputes in the future and ensure that all operators can compete on a level-playing field.

The dispute in question was between Reliance-owned Flag and VSNL, with the latter dragging the Tatas-owned company to the International Chamber of Commerce’s Arbitration Tribunal seeking monetary relief over VSNL’s failure to share the Mumbai landing station. On the other hand, the incumbent VSNL has told Trai that access to the essential facilities and co-location at cable landing stations “should be voluntary... and no exante regulation should be resorted to”.

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