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Apex court reserves order on limited mobility

New Delhi, Nov. 27: The Supreme Court today reserved its order on petitions by cellular operators challenging the controversial order of the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) which had upheld the government’s decision to allow basic operators to offer limited mobility on wireless in local loop (WiLL).

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice G. B. Pattanaik, Justices H. K. Sema and S. B. Sinha reserved their verdict after a marathon four-day hearing.

The telecom tribunal had upheld the government’s decision to allow basic operators to offer limited mobility through WiLL—a move opposed by cellular operators on the grounds that it meant denying them a “level playing field”.

Appearing for the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), senior advocate P. Chidambaram said the TDSAT dealt with the issue in “a casual and cavalier manner” without taking into consideration important facts and rules. He contended that the tribunal had treated the issue “in a casual and cavalier manner” without taking into consideration important facts and rules.

Senior advocate C. S. Vaidyanathan, who also appeared for the operators, argued that while asking the tribunal to consider the issue afresh, the apex court should protect the cellular operators from loss of business by restraining basic operators from enrolling any new WiLL mobile subscribers or offering any new package.

Senior advocate A. M. Singhvi who represented the basic operators, said that the plea of loss of business was all “humbug” as the cellular operators have been bidding huge sums for new circles with the full knowledge that the WiLL mobile service was functional.

He told the court that the “sops” given by the government to cellular operators on account of reduction in licence fees was estimated to be over Rs 8,000 crore. Other benefits like reimbursement of access charges, were also provided to the cellular operators, he added.

Former Attorney General Ashok Desai who appeared for the telecom watchdog, a consumer association, contended it was “important” to have increasing competition between various operators so that the public at large stood to benefit.

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