Cabinet okays free roaming policy

To boost transparency and revive growth in the scandal-hit sector, the government approved a new telecom policy on Thursday that aims to ultimately abolish roaming charges, besides relaxing Internet telephony rules.

The National Telecom Policy 2012, which replaces more than a decade-old rules, was approved by the union cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the telecom minister Kapil Sibal told reporters after the cabinet meeting. 'The target is one nation full mobile number portability and working towards one nation free roaming,' Sibal said.

Under the new policy, the government plans to remove roaming fees, allowing users to retain their numbers even if they move from one circle or zone to another. However, consumers will have to wait for some time for this as the Department of Telecom will first work out modalities of the new scheme before it is brought into force.

Consulting firm Deloitte said that the new policy will benefit consumers, though it may impact the operators negatively in the short term. 'Number portability is going to be boon for consumers as they would be able to retain the number even though they migrate from one telecom circle to other... abolishing roaming charges would be negative in short term for operators as they would lose roaming revenue,' Deloitte Haskins & Sells Partner Hemant Joshi said.

However, in the long run, as usage would increase with no roaming charges might offset the revenue loss caused to the operators, he added.

The new policy will also separate telecom licences and spectrum, against the current practice of bundling them, and will charge a market-derived price for the airwaves.
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