Referring to a TRAI report that discussed how 900 MHz band spectrum was valuable, bench observes, “The anxiety of the petitioners to hold on to spectrums in the 900 MHz band is not difficult to understand”

NEW DELHI : In what would have a direct impact on telecom spectrum auctions to be held on Monday, the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal dismissed a batch of petitions by Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone Mobile Services Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd, and Loop Mobile India Ltd challenging denial of spectrum licence extension.

After completion of 20 years, licences of the firms expire after November 2014. On completion of nineteenth year, telcos had approached the Department of Telecommunications to extend their spectrum licences for another 10 years.

The tribunal observed that a very large portion of spectrum held by the three companies fell in the valuable 900 MHz band and a relatively very small portion was in 1800 MHz band.

Referring to a recommendation by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India that discussed how 900 MHz band spectrum was valuable, the bench observed , “The anxiety of the petitioners to hold on to the spectrums in the 900 MHz band is not difficult to understand”.

“No wonder, therefore, that the petitioners seem to be determined not to easily give up the spectrums in 900 MHz band. But then the value of 900 MHz band from the national perspective also cannot be completely disregarded”.

Vodafone’s spectrum under question includes its spectrum in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Vodafone has 8 MHz spectrum in 900 MHz band in Delhi and Mumbai each. It also has 2 MHz spectrum in 1800 Mhz band in Delhi and Mumbai. Bharti Airtel has the same quantum of spectrum in Delhi and Mumbai.

The companies had argued that they made huge investments and thus they had the “legitimate expectation” of licence extension and denial of extension reflected upon the uncertainties of doing business in the country.

The court brushed the argument aside saying, “The claim for extension of licence was also sought to be buttressed in the name of investor-friendly-environment. We would only like to observe that the holder of a UAS licence has no right of allocation of spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz. As against that, all the petitioners have been holding, for years, spectrums far in excess of the contracted quantum and that too in the most premium band and that on payment of entry fee at rates fixed in 2001. Hence, we are not impressed by this submission,” the tribunal bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam said.

“As a consequence of denial of extension of licences, all the spectrum held by the three petitioners are put in the pool of spectrums that is going to be put on auction on the coming Monday, Feb 3, 2014. As a result, on the expiry of their licences in November 2014, the assignments and holdings of those spectrums would depend upon the result of the auction,” the tribunal observed.   -Cogencis

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