Licence losers don battle gear

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By JAYATI GHOSE
  • Published 7.02.12
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New Delhi, Feb. 6: Norway’s Telenor and Russia’s Sistema — whose telecom licences and spectrum were cancelled by the Supreme Court last week— are set to go on a diplomatic and legal offensive to protect their turf even as they chalk out a bid strategy for fresh auctions that are mandated to be done by May.

Norwegian information technology minister Rigmor Aasrud is in Delhi and has sought an appointment with her counterpart Kapil Sibal and other authorities on the licence cancellation issue.

The Norwegian embassy has also discussed the matter with the Indian government. Sigve Brekke, Telenor’s head of Asian operations, had already met Trai chairman J.S. Sarma last Friday to discuss the new auction process.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland is also in India and is expected to lobby for Telenor, said sources.

However, Indian government officials have conveyed to the Norwegians that the Supreme Court’s verdict in the 2G case was final. “We hope that our Norwegian friends would appreciate that this is an outcome of a legal process,” an official said.

Uninor said the company would participate in the auction but did not rule out the exit option. “In principle, we will go for auction but I am not saying we will win everything ... So, the option of exit cannot be ruled out,” said Brekke.

Brekke added that Telenor would consider the base price and the method of sale process before jumping to any decision on participating in the auction.

“In principle, we are definitely interested in bidding … we are a long-term player (in India), but need to look at the financials,” said Brekke.

“At this time it is difficult to say whether we will bid or not or for how many circles,” he said.

“The bidding should be restricted to new players (whose licences were cancelled) and probably those who were interested to get a licence in 2008 (but did not get it),” said Brekke. “Those who have valid licences should be kept out of the bidding process.”

Russia’s Sistema is also in talks with the Indian government and “looks forward to a clear, transparent, and equitable policy decision on these matters by the government”.

“As part of our legal strategy, we are finalising a review petition,” said a Sistema official. Sources said Sistema-Shyam was also interested to bid in the auction, which was expected to be held within the next four months. The company, however, did not give any official confirmation on this issue.

Tata Teleservices, which had three of its licences cancelled, also plans to file a review petition with the Supreme Court challenging the order.

Last week, the Supreme Court cancelled all 122 licences issued to 10 companies in 2008, including 22 of Unitech Wireless and 21 of Sistema Shyam. The court also asked Trai to propose rules for grant of licence and spectrum through an auction.

Meanwhile, Trai today issued a consultation paper seeking views of operators and stakeholders on the review of the tariff forbearance policy.

At present, telecom tariffs are under forbearance, which enables operators to fix their own mobile call rates, without having to seek prior Trai approval.