Airtel, Vodafone and Idea need to redial for spectrum: SC

The country’s apex court has hung up a call by the country’s top three private GSM mobile services firms to be allowed to retain their licences, which means they need to participate in the auctions starting on Monday. The Supreme Court took the decision on Sunday after four telcos moved the apex judiciary body to hold the auction for the spectrum.

These three telecom firms, besides Loop Telecom, hold licences to operate services in the country which expires in a year or two.

Earlier, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) rejected their plea for an extension of their 20-year licences. The telcos had asked for an extension of validity of the licences for 10 years, arguing that their licence conditions never mentioned a provision for an auction at the end of the validity.

In a special hearing the Supreme Court judges refused to grant any interim relief to the telcos, saying that holding a licence for long period doesn't mean that they could enjoy a “monopoly forever”.

Under the government’s policy, the spectrum held by them in the 1800 and 900 MHz bands in these circles would be put up for auction and the companies would have to buy it back. This means it will be a pitched battle and aggressive bidding by all the applicants, especially the incumbents, in the spectrum auction.

The telcos had said they are willing to pay a fair market-determined price for the spectrum already allocated to them for extending the validity of the licence and hence there was no real need for an auction.

Meanwhile, the auction for the telecom spectrum for providing 2G mobile services was started on Monday. Telecom firms bid for all the 22 circles in the 1800 MHz band and the three service areas under the 900 MHz band for which spectrum auction was opened on Monday, the first day of the process which is expected to garner multi-billion dollar largesse for the exchequer.

The eight bidders in the auction include Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Tata Teleservices, Aircel, Uninor, Reliance Communications and Reliance Jio Infocomm.

(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)

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