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Help Trai to showcause telcos over 3G
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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has decided to issue show cause notices to leading telecom players, Vodafone, Airtel and Idea, asking them why should they not be refrained from offering 3G services in circles where they do not have spectrum licence. The telcos have been offering 3G services through roaming agreements among themselves.

A senior Trai official confirmed the development. “We will issue the notices in the next few days. We will be asking them as to why these services should not be stopped. Our understanding is that this would mean that operators with a UAS licence and spectrum in one circle can become a pan-India operator of any mobile service by using the roaming route even if it does not have spectrum in other circles”.

The move if implemented would jeopardise the plans of many operators to offer pan-India 3G mobile services. The telecom companies have already spent huge money in acquiring 3G spectrum during the auction. While Vodafone has spectrum in only nine circles, it offers 3G services to its customers in 20 circles. Airtel has 3G spectrum in 13 circles but offers the services in 20 circles. Idea Cellular has 3G spectrum in 11 circles but offers the services in 19 circles. The number of circles where 3G spectrum was auctioned was 22.

The three companies had recently signed an inter-circle roaming agreement to use each other’s networks based on their interpretation of the licence agreements. The move was challenged by others.

When contacted, a senior official from the department of telecommunications (DoT) said the matter has already been refered to the law ministry for a legal opinion. The official said the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for the auction held last year could be interpreted in either way, so a legal opinion is a must before taking a decision. DoT has also asked Trai for its views on the matter.

Last month, DoT’s wing Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TERM) had in an email directed the operators to refrain from offering 3G services, pending a clarification on this issue from the DoT and that anyone offering 3G services in this manner would be liable for action.

A public interest litigation was also filed before the Delhi High Court challenging the launch of 3G services by operators where they do not have spectrum. At the last hearing, the high court had ordered additional solicitor general A S Chandioke to present the government’s stand on the agreements till November 30. The PIL also alleged that Bharti, Vodafone and Idea were misusing the spectrum and violating the telecom licence rules and regulations.

When contacted, a Bharti Airtel spokesperson, said: “The company is in complete compliance of the license conditions and all our agreements are as per the stated government policy.” In its response, Idea Cellular said: “We have already responded to DoT on this matter. Our service is within the framework of policy guidelines.” Vodafone, did not reply to queries.

In an earlier letter to DoT, Vodafone had said the UAS licence expressly allows the companies to enter into roaming agreements with other licensees and provide national and international roaming services to their customers.

The company said their interpretation was based on an amendment to the UAS licence on June 12, 2008, which permits operators to get into mutual commercial agreements for intra-service area roaming facilities with other licenced operators.

Source: Business Standard

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