Emphasising on “huge loss to the public exchequer and undue gain to the telecom service providers”, the government has moved the Supreme Court against TDSAT’s order allowing Airtel, Idea and Vodafone to offer 3G services under a roaming pact in areas where not all of them own 3G spectrum.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has said that such intra-service area roaming arrangements enabled a 2G service provider to “illegally” provide 3G services after it had already failed in getting spectrum in 2100 MHz band in these circles, through the network of another operator, who was successful in procuring the spectrum.
“A 2G subscriber always remains a 2G subscriber notwithstanding the roaming facility. Otherwise, it would be beyond the permission granted under the 2G licences and a 2G subscriber unauthorisedly becomes a 3G subscriber,” stated the DoT appeal against the April 29 verdict by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).
The TDSAT had overturned a government ban on offering 3G mobile services beyond their licensed zones through roaming pacts, saying that it was in national interest to allow better utilisation of scarce radio frequency.
The judgement had brought relief to operators Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular, which cumulatively faced a penalty of Rs 1,200 crore for entering into pacts with each other to offer 3G services in regions where they did not win spectrum in the 2010 auction.
The DoT appeal, however, said that the tribunal erred gravely in not appreciating the government’s stand that such arrangements violated the operators’ UAS licences, which defined the scope of their services, and that these activities could have not been held to be in exercise of their fundamental rights to carry on a trade.
Such pacts, DoT said, circumvented the provisions of the UAS licences and led to creating a non-level playing field conditions among service providers which obtained 3G spectrum through the auction and those which could not do so by putting the former in a disadvantageous position.
DoT said that “roaming” was a service and not a facility and hence holder of a UAS licence could provide services to subscribers restricted only to its own network.