New Delhi, Feb. 26: A review of the government’s policy on 900 MHz spectrum is on the cards, following yesterday’s fiasco that saw no operators submitting applications to bid in the auction next month.
The government wanted to take back the spectrum from operators such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular and auction them on the grounds of expiry of their rights to hold the radiowaves next year.
Officials said they would have to review the amount that could be charged for the letting current users continue with the spectrum they hold.
The telecom department will also approach the empowered group of ministers to take a call on selling 1800 MHz spectrum, which, too, has not seen any interested bidders for the auctions on March 11.
Mobile operators had opposed the plan to auction radiowaves in the 900 MHz band, arguing that their applications for extension of licences were pending with the DoT. According to clause 4.1 of the licence agreement, the government can extend the period of licence by 10 years at a time if the request is made by the operator during the 19th year of the licence period.
Operators, allege that the government has now “arbitrarily” changed the terms of the licences, making it subject to renewal rather than extension and delinking spectrum from the licences.
The Delhi high court yesterday asked the DoT to decide on the applications of telecom companies for license extension by March 7. The court also refused to stay the auction of 900 MHz spectrum.
“The DoT will take action as directed by the Delhi high court to dispose of the applications for extension of licenses received from licensees whose licenses are due to expire in November 2014. This action will be completed before the timeline fixed by High Court of Delhi, i.e., 7th March, 2013,” said the telecom department.
Last week, the Supreme Court said its February 2012 order cancelling 122 mobile permits did not cover spectrum in the 900 MHz band, and telecom companies, who have disputes over the 900 MHz airwaves, were free to approach other judicial and quasi-judicial fora such as the TDSAT.
“Both the policy and licence provide for continuity and this action of the DoT to arbitrarily withdraw the 900 MHz spectrum is not only against the provisions of policy and licence but also disruptive and against public interest,” said a Vodafone spokesperson.
Old telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular offer 2G services by using 900 MHz spectrum and 1800 MHz spectrum; 900 MHz is twice as efficient as 1800 MHz, which means lower cost of operation for telecom firms.