Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular have suffered a severe setback with the department of telecommunications (DoT) ordering them to immediately stop 3G services in telecom circles where they don’t have spectrum. The three operators have roaming pacts and offer pan-India 3G mobile services without having spectrum in several circles.
“We have come to a conclusion that 3G roaming deals are in violation of the terms and conditions of the licence and will ask operators to stop their services through such arrangements with immediate effect,” DoT Secretary R Chandrashekhar said.
The clearance to take action on the issue came late in the night 22-23 December 2011 from communications minister Kapil Sibal. The decision came after the law ministry, telecom regulator Trai and an internal unit of DoT echoed the view that such agreements violated licence conditions.
Under the rules, an operator can be fined Rs 50 crore per circle at the most for any violation of licence conditions. The licence can be withdrawn in extreme cases. However, for that, the DoT has to issue a show-cause notice to the errant operator and provide 60 days to reply before any action. DoT made it clear it was yet to decide what action would be taken for violation of licence conditions.
Telecom operators are likely to challenge the action in TDSAT, the quasi-judicial body for telecom disputes, and seek a stay. Experts say there are nearly 15 million 3G customers in the country, of which only 25 per cent are active customers. The total number of customers who will get impacted would be very limited