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Narendra Modi government trying to navigate issue of telecom spectrum allocation amid Lok Sabha polls

Centre plans to make airwaves attractive for satellite players such as Starlink and OneWeb, along with non-commercial users, while avoiding any public backlash

Our Special Correspondent New Delhi Published 25.04.24, 10:54 AM
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The Narendra Modi government is trying to carefully navigate the issue of telecom spectrum allocation amid the Lok Sabha polls.

The Centre plans to make airwaves attractive for satellite players such as Starlink and OneWeb, along with non-commercial users, while avoiding any public backlash.

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The telecom department will send a reference to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in a few weeks to begin a fresh round of consultations on the allocation of spectrum for satellite broadband communications, a senior DoT official said, noting that the previous consultation process would not be taken forward in the light of the enactment of the new telecom law.

“The terms of reference are being finalised. The fresh reference will be sent in a few weeks. Trai’s fair transparent consultation process will be followed. It will give its recommendations on the mechanism of allotment, the frequencies and the pricing, among other things,” the official said.

The government enacted the Telecommunications Act 2023 in December where it added satellite-based communication services to the category of services that would be given spectrum without going through auctions.

Officials emphasised the government does not intend to alter the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that supported auctions as the primary method of allocating telecom spectrum, except in specific sectors such as satellite communication and defence where auctioning is not feasible.

The government’s strategy is to persist with spectrum auctions, resorting to administrative allocation sparingly, only when technically necessary or for strategically significant areas, according to DoT officials.

Officials expressed dismay over the misunderstanding that arose after the government’s plea in December seeking clarification on spectrum allocation.

As enacted in the new telecom law, only very limited and narrowly defined cases, including spectrum for walkie-talkie for police organisations, radar for weather forecasting, radar and communication for ships, communication for space and satellite applications, communication and radar for army, air force and navy and public sector undertakings like BSNL will be given on administrative basis,” the official added. These cases amount to a minuscule part of the total allocations.

The government had on Monday moved the Supreme Court seeking a modification of the 2012 order. The modification sought was to allow for administrative allocation in select cases where it is not technically feasible to use the auction route.

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