While the government is struggling to contain a high fiscal deficit, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has failed to recover about Rs 37,000 crore from incumbent telecom service providers for the excess spectrum they are holding beyond contractual obligations.
This January, the Telecom Commission had approved charging for excess spectrum retrospectively from the date of allotment. The commission is the highest decision making authority at the bureaucratic level for the telecom sector and comprises of nine secretaries.
However, instead of implementing its decision, the DoT referred it to the empowered group of ministers (eGOM) on telecom. "The eGOM is waiting for the Supreme Court opinion on the presidential reference," said DoT secretary R Chandrashekhar.
Under the old licensing regime currently under revision following a Supreme Court judgment in the 2G spectrum scandal, the telecom licences were issued along with a start-up spectrum of 4.4 MHz. After this incumbent operators were issued spectrum beyond this limit without being charged any one-time fee.
However, in its report of November 2010, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) cracked down on this, and sought a price for the spectrum in excess of the quota held by incumbent telcos.
The government would have earned R36,933 crore by charging for excess spectrum, the CAG had said.
A DoT committee and industry regulator TRAI had both recommended that excess spectrum should be charged. The DoT panel had wanted the price to match that of 3G spectrum.
"The DoT should have implemented the Telecom Commission decision as soon as it was approved as it is an executive decision," said BK Syngal, former CMD of VSNL. "Sending it to eGOM or for the Court's opinion is only a delaying tactic."
Telenor in talks for new partners
Norwegian telecom major Telenor is in talks with several potential new partners in India, chief executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas said on Wednesday. “There are talks in many directions, I can assure you, and many who wish to speak to us as well.”
“There is not anything concrete to say about this yet, but we wish to go further in India, provided that the framework at last will be in place, and that we also can see profitability developing on a new investment,” he said. Reuters/Oslo