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Trai rule to guide spectrum allocation

New Delhi, Dec. 26: The government today accepted telecom regulator Trai’s norms for spectrum allocation – a move that infuriated Reliance Communications, which slammed the decision as an “unwarranted concession” to GSM players such as Airtel and Vodafone.

Sources said communications minister A. Raja had instructed telecom secretary D.S. Mathur to file an affidavit in Delhi High Court spelling out the government’s position on the contentious issue.

Last week, the high court had rejected a plea by the GSM lobby to stay the process for awarding spectrum till there was clarity on the issue.

Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Communications accused the government of “succumbing to the pressure tactics of the private dominant GSM operators”.

Reliance Communications had wanted the government to accept the more stringent recommendations of the Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) that would have effectively shut out Airtel and Vodafone from obtaining any further spectrum.

Both Trai and TEC had used subscriber-linked criteria to determine the allocation of additional spectrum.

Trai had suggested a subscriber base that was six times higher than the existing limit to be eligible for additional spectrum.

The TEC, which submitted its recommendation on October 26, had raised the level to 15 times in some circles.

For instance, the telecom regulator had recommended raising the subscriber number for additional spectrum allocation in Mumbai to 2 million for the 10 MHz band; TEC upped it to 5.8 million

Today’s decision also means that telecom operators will be given additional spectrum in multiples of 1 MHz. Until now, GSM operators were granted additional spectrum in the multiples of 2.4 to 2.8 MHz.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which had challenged the revision in the spectrum allocation norms, quickly made a volte-face and accepted the Trai suggestions for the allocation of additional spectrum.

“We are quite comfortable with this,” T V Ramachandran, director general of the COAI said.

“The dominant private GSM operators have an over allotment in the 900 MHz band leading to savings of over Rs 15,000 crore,” Reliance Communications said in a statement issued today.

It contended that instead of asking the GSM players to return the excess spectrum, the government had created a situation where the GSM operators would “continue to enjoy excess and premium 900 MHz spectrum”.

The GSM operators had boosted their profitability at the cost of the government’s revenues, the note added.

In a legal notice served on the department of telecommunications yesterday, the COAI had cautioned against the grant of GSM spectrum to CDMA operators as long as the case was before the high court. The case is slated to come up for hearing on January 3.

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