BSNL hopes to boost market share, no plans to shut

New Delhi: Crisis-ridden Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) is hoping to boost marketshare, following Reliance Jio’s decision to charge six paise per minute for voice calls made to mobile phone networks of rival operators.

The state-run telecom operator is also expecting to get 4G spectrum soon, company officials said. “We see a silver lining. We expect 3-4 per cent gain in marketshare from our current levels due to Jio’s announcement,” BSNL Bengal Circle CGM Ramakant Sharma told reporters here.

At present, BSNL has a marketshare of about 6 per cent in the Bengal circle, which he expects to increase to 10 per cent. It enjoys a marketshare of 12 per cent nationally. “It could gather growth momentum for us in adding higher number of subscribers,” Calutta Telephones CGM Biswajit Paul said. Sharma said on an average, a subscriber calls 60 minutes a day, and if the entire duration is on off-network (off-net), it will translate into an additional cost of Rs 3.6 per day or Rs 101 for 28 days, for a Jio user.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio flagged the regulatory uncertainty over review of sunset clause for call termination charges, and announced it will charge customers 6 paise per minute for voice calls made to rival phone networks, but will compensate users by giving free data of equal value. Jio had said the 6-paise charge will remain in place till the time telecom operators are required to pay rivals for mobile phone calls made by their users to other operators’ network. BSNL had on Thursday asserted that a plan for revival of the state-owned company is under active consideration of the government. The plan entails giving suitable package comprising components like voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and 4G spectrum, and allowing monetisation of assets.

‘FinMin not in favour to close BSNL’
A top telecom department (DoT) indicated that the Finance Ministry is not in favour of closing down state-run BSNL. When asked whether the Finance Ministry has favoured shutting down of the telecom PSU, DoT Secretary Anshu Prakash said, “This information is incorrect.” He was speaking on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of mobile tower industry body TAIPA. A group of ministers headed by Home Minister Amit Shah has approved a revival plan proposed by the DoT.

The Group of Ministers had approved a revival package for the loss-making public sector telecom firms in mid-July. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad were part of the GoM that approved the plan. However, finance ministry officials later raised over 80 objections to the proposal firmed up by the telecom ministry. The DoT proposed Rs 74,000 crore revival plan for BSNL as closing down of BSNL alone would cost the government Rs 95,000 crore.

The revival plan includes Rs 29,000 crore payout for voluntary retirement scheme, Rs 20,000 crore for 4G spectrum and Rs 13,000 crore to fund Capex for 4G services. The plan estimated that with revival package BSNL may become profitable by the financial year 2024. A committee headed by Principal Secretary PK Mishra has also asked a high-level panel looking into the revival of MTNL and BSNL to explain if the two telecom PSUs can be turned around and how.