The access services wing of the DoT, which looks into operational issues, says that the court’s stay order applies to takers of spectrum, and has recommended notices against givers of spectrum, according to an internal department note dated June 27.
Last December, GSM operators obtained a stay order against the government’s directive, which declared 3G roaming pacts among telcos as illegal and called for termination of such agreements within 24 hours.
Bharti, Vodafone and Idea had won 3G airwaves in 13, 9 and 11 circles, respectively, and their roaming pacts ensured that customers could access high-speed data services on a pan-India basis. In the case of Bharti, the company is a ‘taker’ of 3G spectrum, or uses high-end frequencies of other operators, in the nine regions where it does not have 3G spectrum bandwidth.
The notice further added that Bharti had entered into a similar agreement with Idea Cellular and allowed the latter to use its 3G airwaves in Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Mumbai and West Bengal circles.
It is learnt that Vodafone and Idea Cellular are also ‘givers’ of 3G spectrum in 9 and 11 circles, respectively.
Under current rules, the maximum penalty for license violation is 50 crore per circle, implying that Bharti, Vodafone and Idea face the prospect of being slapped with penalties to the tune of Rs 500 crore, Rs 450 crore and Rs 550 crore, respectively. The telecom department can issue demand notices asking these companies to pay penalties only if it dismisses operators’ responses to the notice.
The draft showcause notice further adds agreements among the three companies were in the nature of Mobile Virtual Network Operators.
Last year, DoT and sector regulator Trai had declared the 3G roaming pacts between telcos as illegal, a position that received the backing of the law ministry. Various sections of the DoT had warned that such agreements could have negative revenue implications for the government.