It causes loss to exchequer and affects quality of service

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has told the Department of Telecom (DoT) that the 3G roaming agreements signed between various operators were illegal according to the licence conditions.

The regulator said that such an arrangement was not only causing loss to the national exchequer but also affecting the quality of 3G services offered to consumers.

The TRAI observation comes as a fresh blow to the operators as the Telecom Enforcement Resource Monitoring (TERM) cell of the DoT had also held the roaming arrangement as illegal. Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular have entered into an agreement to offer 3G services to their subscribers across the country. A similar deal has been done by Tata Teleservices and Aircel.

Current licence

The current licence rules allow operators to go in for roaming agreements to allow users to get seamless coverage as they move from one circle to another. But in the case of 3G services, operators are selling connections even where they do not have spectrum.

In its letter to the DoT, the telecom regulator said that such roaming agreements were affecting quality of services as there is only 5 Mhz of spectrum for each operator. According to the TRAI, this is not enough for two operators to share which, in turn, will lead to poor service quality.

The regulator also said that if the DoT permits such an arrangement for 3G services then even 2G players will start doing similar deals. For example, there are a number of operators that do not have 2G spectrum in Delhi and are awaiting allocation. These operators could also enter into roaming deals with players that have 2G spectrum in Delhi and start services.

According to the TRAI, this will upset the level playing field and also lead to loss to the national exchequer by way of loss of revenue from spectrum charges.

In an eight page note to the DoT, the regulator has said that the roaming arrangement was not valid - legally, economically or technically.

The Communication and IT Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, last week had said that in the long-term all arrangements that enable operators to offer services to consumers should be allowed.

Mr Sibal's statement was welcomed by the operators as an indication of possible relaxation by the DoT. However, TRAI's observations combined with the TERM cell's view would be hard to ignore. On the other hand, operators argue that DoT itself had clarified before the 3G spectrum auction that such roaming deals would be permitted.

Intra-circle roaming

“We went into the auction and put in our bids with the clarity that intra-circle roaming would be allowed. Any change by DoT will not be legally tenable,” said one of the operators.

(This article was published on October 25, 2011)
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