New Delhi, April 29 IANS | 8 months ago

Quashing an earlier decision by the government, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) Tuesday allowed telecom service providers to provide 3G services beyond their licensed areas.

The DoT had earlier issued notice to telecom operators asking them to stop 3G inter-circle roaming service. It had also put a cumulative penalty of around Rs.1,200 crore, which TDSAT quashed.

Analysts and industry said the tribunal's decision will increase consumer flexibility and help telecom carriers in providing seamless network across the country. This decision will also help expand high-speed data services faster in the country.

"We find and hold that the intra-circle 3G roaming arrangement does not violate any provision of the UAS licence held by the two sides and it is not open to the government to prohibit the petitioners from carrying out the services in terms of the agreements," the TDSAT order said.

"We accordingly quash the orders passed by the Committee at the DoT (Department of Telecommunication) on 15 March 2013 in case of Bharti and on 5 April 2013 in case of Vodafone and Idea."

"We also quash the communication issued by the Central Government against Aircel and Tata Teleservices Ltd. dated 23 December 2011. Here we may clarify that it will be equally open to MTNL, BSNL and Reliance to enter into similar arrangements with other operators," the order said.

The bench was headed by Justice Aftab Alam.

About a year and a half ago, the DoT had stopped the agreements, saying they were illegal and amounted to subletting one's spectrum.

Telecom service providers Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular then approached the Delhi High Court, but it ruled in favour of the DoT's decision. Following this, telecom operators moved the Supreme Court and sought that the case be transferred to TDSAT.

The Supreme Court allowed telecom operators to move the case to TDSAT in September 2013.

Tuesday's decision came as a major relief to Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular.

Mahesh Uppal, director of a telecom consultancy firm Com First told IANS: "The industry will welcome this decision. Private operators do not have 3G spectrum in all circles. They will now be able to offer 3G services through intra-circle roaming."

"This will also be good for the customers since they too would access 3G services seamlessly across the country irrespective of whether their own operator has 3G spectrum. They will have more flexibility ... and more competition in the industry can possibly bring down prices too."

Rajan S Mathews, director general of Cellular Oprators' Association of India - the GSM body - told IANS: "This decision is beneficial for the customers as they will get pan-India coverage with innovative offerings as the competition will be higher."

"Had there been this regulatory clarity four years back (2010) during the 3G auctioning it would have yielded better results for the operators and the subscribers both," Jaideep Ghosh, partner, KPMG Advisory Services told IANS.

(Posted on 29-04-2014)

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