THE privatisation of value-added telecommunications services in India has taken a big leap with the issuing of licences for electronic mail (E-mail) to private and public-sector companies. Sterling Computers has been given a licence to operate E-mail in 30 cities, while RPG Telecom, a company promoted by takeover tycoon Rama Prasad Goenka, has licences for the four big metropolitan areas - Bombay, New Delhi, Calcutta and Madras - as well as for Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad. Business India Information Technology, part of the Business India Group owned by lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Ashok Advani, will operate in five cities - the four metros plus Bangalore. CMC, a public-sector company under the Department of Electronics, will also operate in the four metros. It is clear that Sterling Computers has the best deal, as far as licences for E-mail are concerned. The company will have an all-India spread, with all mini-metros and some larger towns covered. There are also reports that computer firm Datapro had been given a licence for an E-mail service, while a similar offer has been made to the state-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam. All licensees have been asked to comply with Department of Telecommunications' terms within three months and sign an agreement with the department.