New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay a telecom tribunal order that had overturned a government ban on telecom companies sharing their high-speed networks through intra-circle roaming agreements they had signed in 2011.
A bench of justices J. Chelameswar and S.A. Bobde declined the department of telecommunications’ (DoT’s) plea to stay the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) order or expedite the hearing of the case. DoT had also asked the top court to direct Vodafone India Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd, Aircel Ltd and Tata Teleservices Ltd to stop enrolling more customers for 3G services in circles that were not allotted to them in the 2010 3G spectrum allocation.
The telcos said that DoT had not appealed the TDSAT order for more than seven months. K.K. Venugopal, a lawyer representing Vodafone India, told the court that the department had told the telcos that they could enter into such arrangements in case only one company got the entire spectrum in a pre-bid meeting before the allocation.
In its April order, TDSAT ruled in favour of the telecom operators, and quashed DoT’s penalty notices to the telcos.
Such arrangements allow a telco to offer 3G services using spectrum allocated to another operator, till such time as the first operator is allocated the necessary spectrum and were resorted to by the telcos since no company was able to get spectrum for the entire country.
After the operators had entered into these pacts, DoT issued show-cause notices to them and subsequently fined them around ₹ 1,200 crore, following which the telcos approached TDSAT. Tata Teleservices and Aircel, too, had signed intra-circle roaming pacts but ended the pact after the government issued notices to them.
“It’s difficult to say what the court will decide later. For now, 3G intra-circle roaming is legal and that is welcome news," said Rajan Mathews, director general, COAI.
Shauvik Ghosh contributed to this story.