The finance ministry has pitched for setting the spectrum usage charge for telecom operators at 3 per cent ahead of the meeting of the inter-ministerial Telecom Commission on Saturday. For firms with BWA spectrum like Reliance Jio, the ministry has suggested they can continue to retain a 1 per cent rate for their earlier spectrum but pay the new rates for any spectrum they buy in the forthcoming auction slated to begin on February 3.
The finance ministry’s contention is largely in line with the recommendations of the telecom regulator for a flat charge. Telecom companies including Bharti, Vodafone and Idea have claimed the upcoming auctions for airwaves may not get strong bids if the government does not announce that it will migrate to such flat charges. Currently telecom operators pay spectrum charges at different rates depending on their licence conditions. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has recommended a flat 3 per cent rate. But the telecom department has opposed it saying that it will lose about Rs 4,000 crore in the next five years if it is implemented.
The auctions for 900 and 1800 MHz are scheduled to start from February 3 but analysts claim the bids will be muted for the latter if the Trai recommendations are not accepted. Eight companies have declared they will bid according to the department of telecom. These include Reliance Jio, Vodafone, Bharti Airtel, Aircel, Tata Teleservices, Idea Cellular, Telewings (Uninor) and Reliance Communications.
Meanwhile, Trai chairman Rahul Khullar on Tuesday held discussions with heads of telecom firms on spectrum trading and said the regulator is likely to release detailed recommendations on the matter before the Telecom Commission meeting.