Telecom tribunal TDSAT today restrained the government from banning 3G Inter-Circle Roaming (ICR) pacts among service providers and directed DoT not to take any “coercive steps” against them till next date of hearing on January 3.
The sectoral tribunal issued notice to the Department of Telecom (DoT),asking it to file a reply by December 31.
It asked the telecom operators — Bharti Airtel,Vodafone,Idea Cellular,Tata Teleservices and Aircel — to file rejoinder over DoT’s reply within three days. They also have to submit their 3G ICR agreements to TDSAT.
“Till the next date fixed (January 3),the respondent (DoT) is restrained from taking any coercive steps against petitioners (telecom companies) to enforce the impugned order dated December 23,2011,” said the TDSAT in its order.
The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal also turned down the plea of DoT to restrain the operators from adding new 3G customers till the next hearing.
The tribunal has directed to put the matter up for framing of issues on February 2.
TDSAT’s order followed a special hearing over a batch of petitions filed by Bharti,Vodafone and Idea. The tribunal also allowed two other operators Aircel and Tata Tele to become party to the case.
Yesterday,DoT had issued notices to the telecom firms saying their 3G roaming pacts are illegal and sought their response within a day.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Sighvi,representing Vodafone,submitted that the operators hold Unified Access Services Licence (UASL) which allows them to offer all types of services including voice,data and video.
“There is no other licence required by any operators for providing any type of access service including any high speed data service (3G),” said Singhvi,adding that UASL also allows them to enter into roaming agreements with other operators.
Terming yesterday’s DoT order to stop 3G ICR within 22 hours as “arbitrary and illegal”,Singhvi said that no show cause notice was issued to the operators and “elements of fair play were violated”.
He said that they were not given a chance to be heard and to put forward their views which is against the principles of natural justice. DoT has failed to follow the minimal parameters of “good governance”,he said.
Singhvi alleged that DoT intentionally issued orders in haste on Friday evening to stop 3G ICR,when TDSAT and other courts were closing for winter vacations. The 3G roaming pacts have been in place for nearly six months.
TDSAT Chairman Justice S B Sinha asked DoT,”Why was there so (much) hurry?”
Additional Solicitor General A S Chandiok,representing DoT said the department’s Telecom Enforcement,Resource and Monitoring (TERM) Cell had in August this year informed the operators that their 3G ICR pacts are not permissible.
Chandiok also said that operators were misleading TDSAT by saying that they do not require a new licence for offering 3G services.
“The current licence agreement allows operators to enter into a ICR agreement only on the same band. That is,2G service provider can enter ICR for 2G roaming only and not for 3G services,” he said.
He further submitted that the telecom firms need separate licence for 3G spectrum as a new clause was inserted in the licence conditions of the operators who have got 3G bandwidth.
DoT also opposed the apprehensions of the operators that the consumers will be affected if 3G ICR pacts are stopped.
Chandiok also alleged that operators are misleading their customers by offering pan-India 3G services,for which they do not have the spectrum.
“The customers will have 2G services on their handsets…we are only asking operators to stop offering services for which they do not have spectrum,” Chandiok said.