Home / Industry / Telecom /  Supreme Court rejects telecom companies’ pleas to stay spectrum auction

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Sunday rejected petitions by Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone India Ltd and Loop Telecom that sought a stay on the spectrum auction scheduled to start on Monday.

These three operators hold a bulk of their airwaves on the 900 megahertz (MHz) band, but their permits will expire in November.

In Monday’s auction, the other confirmed participants, including Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd, Tata Teleservices Ltd, Aircel Ltd, Telewings Communications Services Pvt. Ltd (Uninor) and Reliance Communications Ltd,can bid for spectrum in the 900MHz band. Bharti, Vodafone and Loop wanted to retain the radio frequencies for themselves by paying market-determined prices.

An apex court bench, comprising judges A.R. Dave and S.A. Bobde, in a special hearing on Sunday said the spectrum does not belong to the operators which had permission to use it for 20 years.

The court, however, admitted a petition challenging a 31 January order of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appelate Tribunal (TDSAT) against the operators getting their permits extended to continue using the 900MHz frequency in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, where spectrum is being auctioned.

Eight companies have successfully submitted applications to participate in Monday’s auction.

TDSAT rejected the pleas of Bharti, Vodafone, Idea and Loop for extension of their 2G spectrum permits.

While Bharti and Vodafone will bid for spectrum in the 900MHz and 1,800MHz bands, Loop has not applied to participate in the auction, which means it may have to exit the telecom business. Loop operates only in Mumbai on 900MHz spectrum.

A Loop spokesperson last week said the company is looking at options to get its permit extended to continue services.

Bharti, Vodafone and Idea declined comment on Sunday’s developments.

All the major operators that can afford a war chest are eyeing Loop’s assets in Mumbai that’s likely to be worth some 300 crore, a Mumbai-based analyst with an international brokerage said on condition of anonymity.

A.M. Singhvi and Mukul Rohtagi represented the telcos while additional solicitor general K.V. Vishwanathan appeared on behalf of the government.

While Rohatgi submitted that the apex court should ask the telecom department not to declare the result of the auction till the court decides on the appeals, Singhvi contended that Vodafone has had the permit for 20 years since 1994, and so has the right over the spectrum and the licence should be extended for another 10 years.

“It does not mean that you should have a monopoly," the two-judge bench said.

The telcos have argued that their mobile services may be discontinued, which may result in a complete breakdown of mobile telephony services in the country and leave hundreds of millions of their subscribers in the lurch. However, the government said that consumers can change their operator under the mobile number portability facility. According to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India rules, a subscriber can port to another operator within seven working days of applying for the same.

“We accept the averments made in the affidavit in the hope and trust that DoT (department of telecommunications) has fully gone into the technological aspects of the transitional period and arrangements are in place to ensure that there is no dislocation in the mobile telephone service in the country," the telecom tribunal said on Friday.

PTI contributed to this story.

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