The Department of Telecom has issued notices to Idea Cellular and Vodafone India to shut down 3G services in areas where they don’t have spectrum.

They have also been told to pay a penalty of Rs 300 crore and Rs 550 crore, respectively, for alleged violation of licence. This comes after the Delhi High Court quashed the stay order in the case of Bharti Airtel.

Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking an order in support of continuing 3G services in areas where it does not have spectrum.

On Thursday, the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court vacated an earlier stay order against the Department of Telecom banning 3G services through an arrangement which allowed Airtel to ride on other operator’s spectrum.

Hearing on Monday

Airtel told the apex court that the Delhi High Court order would impact 20 million subscribers and hence the case needs to be heard at the earliest. The Supreme Court has posted the case for hearing on Monday.

The company has not stopped 3G services in the seven circles where it does not have spectrum. Officials in the DoT said that post the Delhi High Court ruling, the company is supposed to shut down services within 24-hours and any delay could attract further penalty. Already the DoT has slapped a penalty of Rs 350 crore on Airtel for allegedly violating licence conditions.

While the immediate impact of this will be on Bharti Airtel, the Delhi High Court order will be applicable to Idea Cellular and Vodafone India as well.

The three operators had entered into an agreement to offer 3G services across the country using one another’s spectrum. This was called intra-circle roaming agreement. This was done because none of these players had won pan-India spectrum individually.

According to the DoT, though roaming is permitted, such an intra-circle arrangement cannot be used to sell 3G connections in areas where the operators do not have spectrum. For example, in Madhya Pradesh neither Bharti Airtel nor Vodafone has 3G spectrum but both have subscribers. This is possible because the two operators entered into an agreement with Idea Cellular.

thomas.thomas@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 5, 2013)
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