The murky war over licences and spectrum to run mobile phone services in the country may face yet another legal tangle, with indications that applicants seeking new licences may go to court against the delay in their getting letters of intent (LoIs) to run services.
The GSM technology-based players grouped as the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) are already fighting in the industry tribunal over spectrum allocation for expansion, while a committee is set to revisit subscriber-based norms on the basis of which firms are allocated fresh spectrum for growth.
“We reserve the right to go to the court of law,” Mahendra Nahata, managing director Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd (HFCL) told Hindustan Times on Sunday, saying that his company was expecting to be given letters of intent to run services in 21 more circles on the basis of applications submitted last May.
It was in August that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) allowed the entry of an unlimited number of players in each circle, which led to 46 applicants putting in more than 500 circle-wise applications, but Nahata said his firm’s application was based on the previously existing policy for unified access service licence, which is neutral on technology.
HFCL, like Reliance and Tata Indicom, has been offering CDMA-technology based services. While licences are allowed, the government gives no guarantee on spectrum. Nahata said the current policy requires LoIs should be given – unless an application is explicitly rejected – within 30 days of an application.
“Why are they not issuing LoIs?,” Nahata said. “No-one has given reasons, nor rejected the applications, which is against policy guidelines.” He said even without spectrum, licences could be handed out.
Apart from old players seeking to expand into new areas, the new guidelines that came after August saw a rush of applications from a host of players including those without any previous experience in telecoms such as realty firms Parsvnath Developers and DLF.
PTI quoted Parsvnath chairman Pradeep Jain as saying he was looking for both spectrum and licences and his firm wanted to enjoy the same status as old operators.
"Government must allot spectrum to new applicants and licencees because existing operators who have been issued spectrum in the last seven-eight or 10 years have not been able to roll out services in many circles," Jain said.
Over the past two years, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued more than 50 licences or LoIs under the existing guidelines. It had received nearly 575 applications under the post-August regime after it announced a cut-off date of October 1 for receiving new applications.
Nahata said the cut-off date was only for the latest round of applications, while his own qualified under previous rules.
Jain said, "new applicants must be treated at par with existing operators in terms of spectrum allocation, spectrum charges or roll-out obligations."