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Reprieve for Tata, RCom

July 01, 2013 08:35 IST

DoT decides not to scrap dual-technology telecom licences

n a reprieve for holders of dual-technology telecom licences, such as Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has decided that licences will not be scrapped. Tata Teleservices holds 19 such licences across the country, while RCom owns 22.

Dual-technology players are those offering services on both GSM and CDMA platforms.

The decision is based on the legal advice of senior advocate P P Rao. DoT had sought his opinion after various groups, including Assocham and the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), besides the managing director of Idea Cellular, insisted the Supreme Court decision to cancel 2G licences should lead to scrapping of 141 Unified Access Service (UAS) licences, instead of 122 as undertaken by the government.

According to a recent communication, Rao, in an opinion dated June 15, said there were two sets of applicants. One set was of those that applied for UAS licences till September 25, 2007, and the second of existing licensees seeking approval to use dual-technology spectrum.

Rao added the SC judgment had not mentioned quashing of the approval given for use of dual-technology spectrum to the existing players that had been given licences before the issuance of two press releases on January 10, 2008.

The allocation of spectrum quashed by the Supreme Court was limited to the cancelled licences. The existing licensees were not to be affected, as neither their licences were cancelled nor their spectrum quashed, Rao noted.

RCom’s UAS licences were amended on October 18, 2007, to also include offering GSM services. Tata Tele, on the other hand, had got its CDMA licence in 2005, and was allowed in January 2008 to operate GSM services under the same licence through the dual-technology route.

The Supreme Court had on February 2, 2012, quashed the licences given to private firms on or after January 10, 2008, pursuant to the two press releases issued by DoT on January 10, 2008. In one release, DoT had said letters of intent would be issued to all eligible players on the date of their application (if applied on or before September 25, 2007). In the second, DoT asked the dual-technology applicants to collect DoT’s response on the same day at a specified time.

Though Rao’s opinion is on whether 141 licences should be cancelled or 122, it would also benefit RCom, as COAI had actually wanted the number of licences to be cancelled to go up to 163. The industry body, which lobbies for incumbent GSM players, also wanted the spectrum given to RCom under the dual-technology route to be taken back. It had also sought a separate ruling from the Supreme Court.

Tata Teleservices, on the other hand, had got its pan-Indian CDMA licences in 2005 - except in the three circles of Jammu & Kashmir, Northeast and Assam (which it got in 2008). The three licences issued in 2008 were among the 122 quashed on the Supreme Court directive.

Other companies the licences of which were cancelled were Uninor, Loop telecom, Etisalat DB, Videocon, STel, Sistema Shyam Teleservices and Idea Cellular.

Rao noted that both DoT and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had correctly understood the meaning and purport of the Supreme Court’s directions.

He further said that the interpretation by various groups that 141 UAS licences ought to have been cancelled, and not 122, “is not correct”.

The language of the Supreme Court judgment was very clear and unambiguous and it needed to be read and understood with reference to the two press releases issued on January 10, 2008, the communication added.

Surajeet Das Gupta & Sounak Mitra in New Delhi