The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Plan to skip cellular bidding
- Fourth mobile operator in east could be picked without a race

New Delhi, Nov. 3: The communications ministry is considering the option of awarding the fourth cellular operator slot in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa without going through a bidding process.

There were no bidders for the fourth operator in the three circles in the second round of bidding last year.

The communications ministry has prepared a draft proposal that aims to examine three options to bring in a cellular operator in these circles.

The draft proposal raises three questions: Can an operator be allowed to operate in these three circles without going through a bidding process' Can these slots be auctioned' Should unlimited entry of cellular operators be allowed'

“We are looking at many options. The proposals will have to be vetted by the Telecom Commission before a decision can be taken. This is not a priority for us since there are already operators who are offering services in these circles. But it cannot be delayed. Customers will benefit if there are more operators because there will be competition for greater market share amongst them,” said a senior official in the communications ministry.

The communications ministry held another round of bidding in August to fill the fourth cellular operator’s slot in Bengal, Orissa and Bihar after there were no bids last year.

“At a meeting with the telecom commission, the private operators had pointed out that a mechanism should be developed to fill in the vacant slots in these three circles,” ministry sources said.

Currently, West Bengal is serviced by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Reliance Infocom. With the fourth slot put on block, there will still remain one vacant slot.

According to the National Telecom Policy 1999, there can be four cellular mobile operators in a circle.

Both BSNL and Reliance are also the operators in the neighbouring states of Orissa and Bihar.

Koshika had a licence to offer cellular services in these two circles but it was subsequently cancelled. This licence will also have to be offered to a new operator.

“We wanted to fill the vacant slot simultaneously, but the options were limited. If we had only invited bids for the West Bengal circle, then it may or may not have got the response. All the vacant slots will be filled up after a fourth operator is finalised at the conclusion of bidding for these three circles,” a senior Telecom Commission official said.

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