New Delhi, April 29: Telecom tribunal TDSAT today overturned a government ban on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea for offering 3G mobile services beyond their licensed zones through roaming pacts — saying it was in the national interest to allow better utilisation of scarce radio frequency.
The judgment was a relief to the trio, which faced a penalty of Rs 1,200 crore for entering into pacts with each other to offer 3G services in regions where they did not win spectrum in the 2010 auction.
“We find and hold that the intra-circle 3G roaming arrangement does not violate any provision of the UAS licence held by the two sides and it is not open to the government to prohibit the petitioners from carrying out the services in terms of the agreements,” said a TDSAT bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam.
The department of telecom (DoT) had banned such intra-circle roaming (ICR) pacts, saying they enabled the companies to offer 3G services without buying spectrum. Operators had challenged this order before the TDSAT.
The telecom tribunal feels the DoT prohibition would leave the network unutilised.
“The prohibition of intra-circle 3G roaming would have the direct result of under-utilisation of 3G spectrum, which is plainly not in national interest,” the tribunal said in its 88-page-long order.
According to the tribunal, ICR agreements between the operators would result in “much fuller and better utilisation” of 3G spectrum and would also increase the revenue of the provider and the seeker. It would also benefit the government which would get a percentage from the operator as licence fee.
“The arrangement is thus beneficial for the consumer, the operators and the State,” it said.
The TDSAT bench also quashed penalties on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea and notices issued to Aircel and Tata Tele.
“We are very pleased with the ruling,” said Rajan Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India. “Now that the legal matter has been cleared up, we are hoping the government will allow us to go forward on this without any appeal to the Supreme Court.”
However, sources said the government planned to challenge the TDSAT order before the Supreme Court.
Said Hemant Joshi, partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, “The judgment will benefit subscribers as they won’t have to change the operator to get 3G services.”