Delay in firming up licence renewal terms to blame, says DoT’s wing

Older mobile operators are running their networks without wireless permits. Reason: The Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) wing of the Department of Telecom will not give any new permits until issues related to licence renewal, including the one-time spectrum fee, are decided.

This has put telecom companies, including Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, in a spot because without the permit their operations can be technically termed illegal. For example, Bharti Airtel’s permit for using frequency band in Delhi expired on March 29 but has not been renewed. Similarly, Vodafone continues to offer services in Mumbai though its permit expired on March 27.

Telecom companies blame the DoT for the delay. “Operators applied for renewals much before the expiry date but the WPC has not moved on it. Since it’s not our fault that the permits have not been issued, there is no question of terming the services illegal,” said Mr Rajan Mathews, Director-General, Cellular Operators’ Association of India.

Under the existing rules, operators are required to renew their spectrum permit every five years. Although unified access licences are given for a 20-year period, usage of specific frequency bands in a region is controlled by the WPC through this permit. The permit, called Wireless Operating Licence, gives operators the right to use spectrum for a five-year period.

However, the WPC finds itself in a quandary because the 20-year unified licences issued to some operators in 1994-95 come up for renewal in 2014-15. Hence, if it gives wireless permits now for the next five years, then operators could claim right to the spectrum till 2017. Therefore, the wireless authority wants clarity on the larger policy terms and conditions for renewing the unified licence before issuing fresh wireless permits.

“At present, issues such as spectrum re-farming, liberalisation of spectrum, spectrum trading and sharing are under consideration of the Government. Issuance of fresh wireless operating licences and renewal of old permits are kept pending for want of direction in the matter,” WPC said in an internal note seen by Business Line.

Impact on consumers

There is unlikely to be any impact on mobile consumers as operators said the delay in getting the permit will not impact operations. “We are not going to shut down cell sites for lack of this permit. It is up to the DoT to give us the licence,” said a Mumbai-based operator.

The industry is also making a presentation to the Government to do away with the need for taking this permit every five years. “We have a 20-year licence period and we are also paying spectrum usage charges, so what is the need for this permit once an operator sets up his network and begins operations. This just adds to the procedural hassles,” said another mobile operator.

thomas.thomas@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 26, 2012)
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