An official panel to review frequency allocation norms has favoured pricing each megahertz of the airwaves, and put the onus of deciding whether to ask mobile operators to return excess spectrum on the government.
"Legal and other policy issues have to be considered by legal experts and related to policy about return or non-return of spectrum. But every megahertz of spectrum has to cost somehow," the committee, headed by additional secretary in the Department of Telecom R Bandhopadhyay, said in a note.
At present, mobile operators get start-up spectrum virtually free as it comes bundled with the licence. Companies need to pay Rs 1,651 crore for a pan-India licence. Telecom regulator TRAI had also earlier suggested that spectrum fee should be de-linked from the licence fee.
Besides, some operators using the CDMA technology such as Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices have demanded that rival GSM players holding more than 6.2 MHz of spectrum must return these surplus airwaves, which need to be distributed among new players.
Although the government has not yet taken any decision on return of spectrum, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had recently said that the scarce spectrum must be used efficiently.
In another observation, the review panel said the number of subscribers suggested by the Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) for awarding additional airwaves could have been much higher if it had taken all efficiency parameters into account.
"TEC would have arrived at much higher figures if they had taken all spectrum efficiency improvement methods into account," the panel said in its note.
TEC had enhanced the subscriber base for allocation of additional spectrum by up to 15 times.