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GoM divided on unified licensing

September 27, 2003 10:04 IST

Contrary to the government's claims of a decision in principle on unified licensing in telecom, the group of ministers was actually divided on the issue in Thursday's meeting.

While the ministers agreed on the other proposals put forward by the department of telecommunications in the first meeting of the group, headed by Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, a decision on unified licensing was deferred due to "lack of unanimity," officials said.

Some members of the group raised objections because they thought that the move would benefit only Reliance Infocomm. "A policy should not be tailored to fit a handful," an official said.

The members were also concerned about the Telecom Engineering Committee report, which said Reliance had violated licence conditions while offering limited mobility services.

The officials further pointed out that an agreement on unified licensing could not have been taken in the absence of two members -- Defence Minister George Fernandes

and External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha.

They said an agreement would be possible only after laying down strict conditions like high licence fees for those opting for unified licences, and providing reasonable compensation to cellular operators.

With 3.5 million limited mobility subscribers, it was difficult for the government to ask wireless in local loop (WLL) operators to shut services, though they were violating licence conditions, the officials said.

Officials said the government would ask operators to choose between migrating to a unified licence regime or remaining in the existing framework.

"We may allow unified licensing, but will put on record that certain companies have violated the licence conditions laid down by the government," they said.

Communications Minister Arun Shourie had said the group of ministers had agreed in principle to move towards a unified licence.

He added that a final decision would be taken after presentations by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh on October 4. Shourie could not be contacted for comments today despite repeated attempts.

BS Economy Bureau in New Delhi