New Delhi: The empowered group of ministers (eGoM) headed by finance minister P. Chidambaram will meet on Wednesday to discuss the one-time fee to be paid by existing telecom operators for spectrum they have, as well as the refarming of spectrum in the 900 megahertz (Mhz) band.
“Refarming is expected to be discussed but there is unlikely to be a decision,” said an official in the department of telecommunications (DoT). “A final decision on refarming will likely be taken only after the auction (of 2G spectrum) is over.”
Refarming in this context refers to the older operators giving back all or part of their spectrum in the more efficient 900 Mhz band in return for spectrum in the 1,800 Mhz band at the time of renewal of their telecom licences. Older operators such as Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone India Ltd will see some of their licences come up for renewal from 2014. The eGoM has to decide whether to refarm all or part of the spectrum, if they decide to allow it. Operators are against refarming saying it would lead to a significant fall in their network coverage. The government has in principle approved the concept of spectrum refarming.
DoT officials have said that there is also a proposal to allow the operators to keep 2.5Mhz or 5Mhz of the spectrum in the 900 Mhz band. The key decision to be taken by the eGoM is on the one-time fee for spectrum. The eGoM essentially has four options to deliberate on: payment for all the spectrum held by the older operators; payment for spectrum above the start-up 4.4 Mhz; payment for spectrum above the contracted 6.2 Mhz on a pro-rata basis for the remaining years of their licences; or whether there should be any payment at all.
The government had included these questions in the presidential reference that the Supreme Court replied to on 27 September.
Telcos will have the option to repurchase airwaves through the 2G spectrum auction proposed in 2013. The base price for the auction of the 900 Mhz spectrum is expected to be double that of the spectrum in the 1800 Mhz band.
The price of the spectrum payable will be based on the price found once the 2G auction, expected to begin on 12 November, is concluded. The eGoM also has to consider matters relating to the e-auction of the third phase of FM radio broadcasting services.