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Operators move tribunal after 3G blow

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

DoT notice to Airtel, vodafone & idea to stop services through roaming agreements.

Private telecom service providers Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular have moved the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on Friday against the department of telecommunications' (DoT) directive to immediately stop 3G mobile services through roaming arrangements.

According to people close to the development, the companies moved the tribunal for a stay challenging the DoT's decision. A special hearing is expected tomorrow, since the court would be closed for the winter vacations from next week.

DoT on Friday sent notices to Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to stop 3G services immediately in circles where they don’t hold the spectrum. However, it has not taken any decision on the subsequent action or penalty on the operators, DoT secretary R Chandrashekhar said yesterday.

DoT has sought the operators’ response within 24 hours.

Airtel in a statement said the decision would impact the much-needed investments for the sector and dent the credibility of the government. “We are shocked at the arbitrary decision. It is a retrograde step and would adversely impact the proliferation of broadband penetration, depriving millions in rural and urban India from affordable and quality telecom services,” the statement said.

It went on to add that the decision was illegal as it came months after the company informed the department of launching the services. DoT had also clarified the matter before the 3G auction in 2010, and the reverse stance sends a wrong signal, not only within the industry but to the entire business community looking for a stable and transparent policy regime.

Vodafone said; "We received the notification from DoT after normal business hours on Friday. We think the decision is completely unreasonable. As stated earlier, the 3G roaming agreements that Vodafone has entered into with other operators are in complete compliance with all the government regulations and this issue was specifically clarified by DoT before the 3G auction was held. Now, to completely reverse the stand, is irrational. It would affect millions of customers, and we think it is a retrograde step. "

The companies said they would take appropriate action to protect their and the consumers' interest, and criticised DoT for sending notice late on Friday as they can only approach court on working days.

Idea Cellular said: “We are deeply dismayed at DoT’s decision to declare the intra-circle roaming agreement for 3G services as illegal. The agreements between the operators is in accordance to the existing license conditions and prior explicit written clarifications received from DoT, before the auction. It is unfortunate that the terms on which auctions were conducted are not being implemented with integrity and sincerity. It is not only a breach of trust, but also an act that is expected to adversely impact half the base of mobile users’ investors' sentiments.

Experts, however, say there are 15 million 3G customers in the country, of which only 25 per cent are active. Hence, there would be limited impact.

Through the roaming agreements, Airtel, Vodafone Essar and Idea offer services in the circles where they don’t hold 3G spectrum. While Vodafone has spectrum in nine circles, it offers services in 20 circles. Similarly, Airtel has 3G spectrum in 13 circles, but offers services in 20. Idea Cellular has spectrum in 11 circles, but offers services in 19. The number of circles where 3G spectrum was auctioned last year is 22.

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First Published: Sat, December 24 2011. 00:08 IST