TRC accused of bias in new allocation
By Akhry Ameer
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) has been accused of favouring Sri Lanka Telecom in plans to reallocate the 800 MHz and 900 MHz frequency bands, an act unbecoming of a regulator and out of line in the telecommunication liberalization process.

Wireless local loop (WLL) operator Suntel in a letter to TRC expressed its displeasure on the consultation document by TRC and called for a 'clear and strong policy based on fairness to create a level playing field'.

Suntel alleges the consultation document on the realignment and allocation of spectrum in the 800MHz and 900 MHz bands is unfair and discriminatory. The paper says there is a larger allocation for incumbent operator SLT without any justification.

The consultation document has been published by TRC with a view to realigning the two bands as initially spectrum allocations had been made without a proper plan based on requests made by operators. The new plan proposes to vacate frequencies held by mobile operators in the 800 MHz by providing alternate frequencies equally among the four operators in the 900 MHz in keeping with their license requirements. Currently large frequency spectrums are held by initial mobile operators Celltel, Hutchison (now Hutch) and Mobitel, while Dialog commenced operations directly with digital technology.

Suntel's contention is that the vacated 800MHz bandwidth proposed to be allocated for use among the fixed line operators for CDMA technology does not take into account bandwidth already owned by SLT and the allocation is staggered at intervals. The paper proposes to allocate the 2x2.5 MHz (2.5 MHz in either direction) being vacated by Mobitel immediately to SLT, while the other two WLL operators to be allocated 5 MHz duplex bandwidth in the third-quarter of 2005 and 2006 respectively.

According to the proposal SLT which already owns 2x3 MHz will have a total of 2x5.5 MHz immediately, while Suntel and Lanka Bell get 2x2.5 MHz in total a year apart from each allocation thus leading to an unfair competitive advantage to SLT.

"It is a total discrimination and goes against the idea of liberalization and international best practices. Internationally the incumbent operator is not given preferential treatment," argued Mahinda Ramasundara, Technical Director - Suntel Ltd. on the proposal adding it "intentionally tries to kill the other operators".

Suntel has alternatively suggested immediate allocation of 2x2.5 MHz each to the two WLL's for CDMA technology usage from the vacancy created by Mobitel's migration; while SLT is permitted to start similar services one year later. Further, it has suggested all three fixed operators to have equal bandwidth irrespective of existing allocations and upon complete migration of mobile operators by second-quarter of 2006. The alternate proposal is in line with the equal allocation for mobile operators in the 900 MHz band.

Suntel has also requested TRC to call back the paper and present a better policy. The TRC granted the public and industry time till October 22 to response to their document.

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