New Delhi: The Central Vigilance Commission, or CVC, on Thursday sought additional clarifications from the department of telecommunications, or DoT, about the government’s rationale for not allocating scarce radio spectrum through an auction. It also asked the department to explain its first-come-first-served policy in a week.
In a letter written to telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura, a copy of which was seen by Mint on Thursday, the CVC also questioned DoT’s ability to monitor spectrum hoarded by current operators.
“(The) commission would like the DoT to confirm that they have a system to monitor, and they have verified that no operator is hoarding spectrum unutilized, particularly in areas where there is lack of subscribers, and the operator has not returned the spectrum to DoT,” CVC said in the letter.
According to Mint’s calculations, reported in February, some firms in metros could be asked to return as much as 3.8MHz of spectrum by DoT. For instance, Mumbai-based BPL Mobile Communications Ltd, which had around 1.2 million mobile subscribers in the city with around 10MHz of radio spectrum, may be asked to return 3.8MHz of excess airwaves, since DoT’s January order mandates operators to serve 1.5 million users to qualify for spectrum beyond 6.2MHz.
The CVC also wants the government to either auction the remaining 2G spectrum, or clarify why an auction can’t be held. “The true value of this finite and precious resource needs to be realised,” it said.
DoT officials say holding an auction is difficult. “There are legal and technical issues, which makes it impossible,” said a senior DoT official who did not wish to be identified.
In fiscal 2007, the government collected Rs2,100 crore as one-time spectrum charges from telecom operators, in addition to about Rs6,300 crore as licence fee, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or Trai.
CVC’s letter comes at a time when DoT is already processing spectrum allocation to new telecom aspirants, apart from existing operators who need additional spectrum.
Nine firms—STel Ltd, Shyam Telelink Ltd, Swan Telecom Ltd, Loop Telecom Pvt. Ltd, Spice Communications Pvt. Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd, Tata Teleservices Ltd, Unitech Ltd and Datacom Solutions Pvt. Ltd—are waiting for spectrum to start services.
Reliance Communications Ltd, or RCom, India’s second largest wireless phone firm, has already been given a licence and spectrum rights to start services nationwide on the GSM technology platform. RCom serves about 33 million customers on the rival CDMA platform, and was allowed to offer services through GSM based on Trai’s recommendation on 29 August last year.
“Please clarify ‘combination of technology’ recommendation and the process of allotment of licence and allocation of spectrum under this category,” the CVC letter said. “How were they allotted spectrum, in comparison to others in the waiting list? Was the allotment out of turn?”