<p>The telecom operators whose licences will expire on January 18 due to the Supreme Court order in February last year might get a breather. The department of telecommunications (DoT) is working on several options to allow telcos to continue operations after January 18.
“If people’s licences are expiring, then who moves the supreme court... those are all issues that can be certainly decided. Butm naturally, their business cannot be set at naught... something will have to be done,” said an official.
The DoT has to explore alternative options for these telcos as it would not be able to conduct an auction before January 18, and companies such as Telenor have expressed interest to continue operations in the Mumbai telecom zone.
However, the official did not clarify if the DoT would approach the supreme court to seek extension of the licences till the next auction, to be conducted by March. The matter would be decided at the ministerial level, the official said.
Sistema Shyam Teleservices, which lost 21 licences, informed its 16 million customers on December 28 that it intended to continue operations beyond January 18. The operator of MTS brand also said it was taking further steps to continue services in India. In May, Sistema had filed a curative petition before the supreme court seeking reinstatement of its licences, yet to come for hearing. Russia’s Sistema JSFC, which has a 57 per cent stake in Sistema Shyam Teleservices, has issued a notice to the government for resolving the licence issue. Recently, Sistema asked the government to either resolve the issue, or it would seek “billions of dollars” in damages from India.
In February, the supreme court had quashed 122 licences for alleged corruption in spectrum allocation.
These included 21 licences of Sistema Shyam Teleservices (MTS), 16 permits of Telenor-controlled Uninor, 15 of Videocon and three CDMA permits of Tata Teleservices.
In the November 2012 spectrum auctioning, the government received a lukewarm response with Delhi, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Karnataka failing to attract bidders due to the huge base price. The Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on telecom decided to reduce the reserve price by 30 per cent for the four circles for the next auction.
The 800 MHz band CDMA spectrum also failed to get any bidder in the November auction. The EGoM is still undecided about what the government should do with the CDMA spectrum.
The EGoM, which will meet on January 7, is likely to discuss on whether it would consult the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on what it should do with the 800 MHz band of spectrum, which failed to get bidders in the November round of auction. It might also decide to conduct a fresh auction of the 800 MHz band of spectrum along with the 1,800 MHz and 900 MHz bands of spectrum in the next round in March.
Besides, the EGoM would also finalise the design of the next auction and how much would be put for sale.