The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), a quasi-judicial body, on Tuesday overturned the government order that had stopped the telecom operators from using each other’s spectrum to provide 3G mobile services beyond their licensed zones.
The TDSAT bench, headed by Justice Aftab Alam, also quashed the government’s decision to impose penalty on three telecom companies–Airtel, Vodafone and Idea–for entering into a pact to offer services.
The order not only brought relief to telecom companies but also helps the firms to roll out 3G services in areas where there are no such services, the telecom companies claimed. Though there is a chance that the government may challenge the order in the Supreme Court, sources in the Department of Telecom (DoT) told Deccan Herald that a final decision will be taken after studying the order.
In the 2010 3G auction, Airtel won spectrum in 13 out of 22 telecom service areas, Vodafone in 9 and Idea Cellular in 11 circles. In 2011, the three telecom companies entered into a pact to provide 3G services in regions falling beyond their licensed zones. Other operators such as Tata Teleservices Ltd and Aircel Ltd had also entered into similar arrangements.
Terming these agreements as illegal, the DoT subsequently asked these firms to stop offering 3G services where they do not own the spectrum. The DoT said the agreement allows these companies to offer 3G services without buying the spectrum. Besides, the DoT imposed Rs 1,200 crore fine on Airtel, Vodafone and Idea and issued notices to Aircel and Tata Teleservices.
The operators had challenged the government order before the tribunal. After a split verdict in 2012, the matter went to the Supreme Court. The apex court asked the tribunal to hear the issue again.
While overturning the order, the tribunal was of the view that the DoT prohibition on intra-circle roaming between the operators on 3G network would leave the network unutilised.“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,” the order read.
Hailing the order, Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, said that the industry and customers will benefit from it.
“It is a pleasant feeling that TDSAT has recognised that we have a right under the notice inviting application (NIA) to enter into 3G roaming agreements. This judgement is good for customers, operators and the government,” he said.