Aug 28, 2012

DOT to serve notice to Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to stop 3G roaming outside their permit areas

The telecom department (DoT) has readied showcause notices directing incumbent GSM operators - Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular to hang up on their 3G roaming pacts and stop offering high-end data services in areas where don't have 3G permits. 

The DoT, in its showcause notice will tell these telcos that the 'final order of passed by the member and chairman of the telecoms tribunal (on the 3G roaming pacts between telcos), does not constitute a judgement in law and the same cannot be implemented'. The notices that will be sent to telcos soon further adds that the split opinion of the tribunal only confirms the validity of the department's letter to mobile phone companies in December 2011 directing that roaming pacts should be scrapped. 

The DoT has got the proposed showcause notice approved by the Attorney General. ET reviewed a copy of the draft showcause notice that has been vetted and approved by the highest law official in the country. Bharti, Vodafone and Idea had won 3G airwaves in 13, 9 and 11 circles, respectively, in the 2010 auctions and their intra-circle roaming pacts ensured that customers could access high-speed data services on a pan-India basis. ET reported earlier this month that the law ministry had said that the DoT could initiate action, including terminating mobile permits of Bharti, Vodafone and Idea, for allegedly violating licence conditions and entering into bilateral roaming agreements in areas where they did not have 3G permits. 

 Responding to a telecom department (DoT) query, the Additional Solicitor General had said the DoT was 'well within its rights to claim the amounts earned by companies by providing 3G services for which they did not have any authorisation, permission or license from the DoT'. "It will be based on the doctrine of unjust enrichment' and this would be distinct from the termination of licences, the ASG's July 14 communication to the DoT had added. The department had sought the law ministry's opinion after a two-member bench of the telecom disputes tribunal had delivered a split verdict on its petition challenging the government's order banning such agreements. 

The proposed showcause notice that will be issued to the three telcos lists several alleged violations, including the charge their roaming agreements were in the nature of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) which is currently not permitted in India. It further adds that these companies had violated existing norms by launching 3G services in regions where they did not have the requisite spectrum and permits to offer these facilities.

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