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Fudged numbers: DoT roll call for cell users
NEW DELHI: The communications ministry will put in place a mechanism to monitor the user base of telecom operators within two months, to ensure
they do not inflate subscriber numbers to grab additional spectrum.

The Telecom Commission, the apex decision-making body of the department of telecom (DoT), approved the move to audit the subscriber numbers of all operators at its meeting on July 22, an official in the communications ministry told ET.

“The commission directed that there be a need to develop a system to put a check on telecom operators inflating figures related to the number of subscribers. This should be implemented by September 15,” the official said, quoting the minutes of the meeting.

India allocates additional spectrum, or airwaves on which all mobile services are offered, for second-generation (2G) mobile services on the basis of operators’ subscriber numbers. This means, every time the subscriber base of a telecom operator reaches a pre-defined level, it gets additional spectrum.

This has led to allegations that many operators report higher subscriber additions. Also, the DoT suspects some operators count non-active customers, who no longer use their connections, while calculating the user base.

The subscriber audit will be handled by DoT’s senior economic advisor AS Nikhade. “We have asked the economic advisor to look into the issue and verify if the customer figures showed by all operators are correct,” said a top DoT official, who did not wish to be named.

The official, however, refused to state the nature of action to be initiated against operators found misrepresenting customer numbers.

The ministry also wants to establish if all operators are eligible to have the airwaves they currently hold, another official said.

The move is in line with the department’s recent tough stance towards telecom operators.

Recently, DoT ordered special audits on the books of the top five telecom operators, namely, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Vodafone Essar, Idea Cellular and Tata Teleservices, to check misreporting of revenue.

There are complaints that many telecom operators are reporting lower revenues to keep their licence fee and spectrum charges low. Operators pay 6-10% of their annual revenue as licence fee and another 2-6% as spectrum usage charges.

Last week, the department even demanded a weekly update on the status of the audit being done on Reliance Communications’ books after the government-appointed auditor, Parakh & Co, failed to meet its deadline because the company was slow in submitting records.

The government recently put on hold all allocations of 2G spectrum, on which all mobile services are offered now, till the completion of auction of spectrum for third-generation (3G) telecom services, which offer high-speed internet and video conferencing on mobile.

India, the world’s fastest-growing mobile market, is the only country that allocates additional spectrum based on companies’ subscriber base. This methodology has come under severe criticism of late.

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